Well, that was some kind of hockey game!
The Devils and the Nashville Predators put on a show of tight-checking defensive hockey with spurts of end-to-end action that was just incredible. In the end, the Devils came back to gather a point only to fall in a shootout, 2-1.
About 24 hours after Nico Hischier became the youngest player in Devils history to score an overtime goal (at 19 years and 344 days according to MSG’s Erika Wachter) in the comeback win yesterday over Vegas, the Devils were right back at it at Bridgestone Arena. This was the sixth back-to-back of the season for the Devils and they have yet to win the second game of one this year.
For the second game in a row, the Devils would be without Taylor Hall. He is still suffering from lower body soreness. Steven Santini and Egor Yakovlev were the other scratches for New Jersey as they went with largely the exact lineup from last night against the Golden Knights.
But if the Devils had no Taylor Hall, they would get no sympathy from the Predators. Nashville is still missing some good firepower: Viktor Arvidsson, PK Subban and Filip Forsberg to name a few.
In goal, after Cory Schneider’s debacle in his first home start yesterday, the Devils went back to Keith KInkaid tonight and he was largely brilliant. He made 27 saves on 28 Preds shots and four saves in six rounds of the shootout. Opposing him was “the best backup in the business” in Juuse Saros. He stopped 33 of 34 Devils shots and made a further four saves in the shootout (the Devils had one miss).
Nashville was hot early. They hit the post on their first power play of the night at about the midway point of the first period. On the night, the Preds were 0-for-2 with no shots on the power play while the Devils were 0-for-4 with four shots. Both teams also had a shorthanded shot as well on the special teams.
The Predators finally broke the seal on the game at the 18:43 mark of the first period when Frederick Gaudreau scored from Mikka Salomaki and Mattias Ekholm. On that goal, Kinkaid made the initial save but kicked the rebound into the slot for Gaudreau all alone. The initial shot from Salomaki was from an impossible angle that somehow made its way towards Kinkaid. It was now 1-0 Nashville and in a building like the Bridgestone Arena, where the fans can get loud and really affect the game, that was not a good thing.
The Devils would have about 1:30 of power play time on fresh ice in the second period when Kevin Fiala took a high sticking penalty on Brett Seney. They obviously did not score but it was not just the Devils’ power play that struggled today.
At 10:37 of the second, Ben Lovejoy took a hooking penalty and the Predators seemingly tied it on a Roman Josi goal. Kinkaid immediately went to captain Andy Greene and told him to tell the bench that he was interfered with. Coach John Hynes decided to use the team’s coach’s challenge to see if goaltender interference did occur. The replay showed that Colton Sissons was cutting through the crease and did, in fact, bump into Kinkaid’s glove hand, not allowing the goalie to get set for the shot. The call on the ice of a good goal was reversed and the goal was called back. The game was still 1-0 Nashville.
And that is how it would stay until late in the third. There were some great chances, including midway through through the third period when Marcus Johansson and Nico Hischier broke in on a 2-on-0 on Saros. Johansson tried to pass to Nico only to have the play broken up by a backchecking Nick Bonino. That led to a partial breakaway at the other end that Kinkaid had to stop.
Kinkaid was pulled with about 2:15 left in regulation and the Devils were in for some late minute magic again. This time off the stick of Brian Boyle. It happened when Jesper Bratt made a nice one-handed effort to get the puck over the Nashville blue line to Johansson. Johansson then skated it up the right wing. He fired on net and the rebound came right to Boyle in the slot. Much like Gaudreau’s goal earlier, he made no mistake and buried it behind Saros to tie it up at one with about 1:31 remaining in the game.
When the buzzer sounded on regulation, we were off to overtime for a second consecutive night. And at three-on-three, both teams just let it all hang out. Back-and-forth, end-to-end action that decided nothing thanks to some stellar goaltending and defensive play by both teams. And when OT could not decide things, it was off to the skills competition. The Predators have not lost a game to an Eastern Conference opponent so far this year and things would not change here.
Kinkaid began the shootout with a save on Kyle Turris. Kyle Palmieri went first for the Devils in the bottom of the first and scored. Ryan Ellis evened things out in the top of the next round when he beat Kinkaid. Drew Stafford was then stopped by Saros. In the next round, Calle Jarnkrok was stopped by Kinkaid and Boyle by Saros. Fiala was stopped by Kinkaid next and Bratt missed the net. In the fifth round, Kinkaid saved a shot by Craig Smith and Saros stoned Hischier. Ryan Johansen finally broke through in the sixth round for the Predators and the game was on John Quenneville’s stick. He could not score and that was that, as Nashville pulled out the extra point.
In the game overall, the Devils won 48-percent of the faceoffs, were out hit 34-12 and the Preds had more blocked shots at 15 to 10. Nashville also finished with more giveaways (15 to 12). The three stars were all from the Predators: Saros was the first star while Johansen was the second and Gaudreau was the third.
Individually for the Devils, Sami Vatanen was back to being the workhorse with 25:28 of total ice time (including 4:02 on the power play and 1:43 on the penalty kill). Hischier led the forwards with 21:47 total time (logging 3:33 on the PP and nine seconds on the PK). Vatanen also led in shots on goal with five while hits were led by Vatanen and Brett Seney, who each had two apiece. Greene led in blocked shots with five and takeaways were led at one by Stafford, Blake Coleman and Lovejoy.
Next up, the Devils come back home on Tuesday for an early week tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That game is another stiff challenge and puck drop is at 7 PM on the 18th. We will, of course, have that for you right here.