The Devils simply did not feel that their compete level was up to snuff. Because of that, coach John Hynes put them through a “training camp-like” practice. If bag skating was not enough to get through to them, what else could?
The wind sprints and grueling practices paid off – mostly. The Devils came out and played better tonight than they had in the last two games. There were few, if any, “passengers.” But the Devils still could not close out the deal, falling in overtime to the Nashville Predators 4-3.
Now, make no mistake, the Preds are an elite team in the NHL and the Devils kept up and skated with them. But they just could not get that kill shot.
Some roster moves saw Steven Santini (fractured jaw), Ben Lovejoy (lower body) and Drew Stafford (upper body) going to the injured reserve while John Quenneville, Eric Gryba and Egor Yakovlev were all recalled from Binghamton to fill in on a roster beset by injuries. Yakovlev was a healthy scratch with Kevin Rooney and Cory Schneider while Quenneville was back on the third line with Miles Wood and Travis Zajac.
Speaking of Zajac, he was listed as day-to-day while missing that game in Philly, so he was back tonight and made an immediate impact, as the Devils won 50-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Zajac, personally won 65-percent of the draws that he took.
One other piece of news was a milestone for Brian Boyle. He was playing in his 700th career NHL game. The centerman, who just received the news that his cancer was in full remission, was honored on the big board in the arena.
Goaltending-wise, Keith Kinkaid and Juuse Saros are the very definitions of a “1A” goalie. A little bit more than a backup and a goalie who can be a starter when needed. With Cory out for the Devils and Pekka Rinne on IR for Nashville, the two would matchup head-to-head. Both were pretty much spectacular most of the night – especially Saros in the third period when the Devils were putting a lot of pressure on the offensive zone.
Kinkaid made 32 stops on 36 Nashville shots faced while Saros turned aside 33 of 36 Devils shots.
Nashville does not have very good special teams, coming into the game ranked 30th in the NHL in power play and 22nd on the penalty kill. The Devils would end the game 1-for-3 on the power play with five shots (and one shorthanded) while the Preds were 1-for-4 with six PP shots and no shorthanded shots. What the Predators, as a bona fide Stanley Cup contender, have is a good 5-on-5 record. They are second in the league in even strength goals coming into tonight. For what it is worth, they also lead in empty net goals – a situation that would thankfully not come up tonight.
The game got off on the right foot for New Jersey with Damon Severson scoring just 2:58 into the first. Severson’s second of the season came when Kyle Palmieri dug the puck out of the corner and passed to Taylor Hall who swooped into the near faceoff circle. Hall one-touched the puck back to Severson, who walked the line with it, backing up along the blue line and firing a howitzer which beat Saros cleanly. With the primary assist, Hall continued his point-scoring streak, now standing at six games.
But in something that would become a bit of a trend durin the night, the Preds would tie things up at the 14:40 mark of the first when Yannick Weber shot a knuckle puck that Kinkaid misread. It fluttered past Kinkaid’s glove hand and in. Kevin Fiala and Calle Jarnkrok had the assists on the goal that tied things at one.
But before the first intermission came, the Devils would retake the lead. It came on the power play at 19:01 (Filip Forsberg was called for interfering with Quenneville at 17:53) and came off the stick of Nico Hischier. This one came when Palmieri swung a pass to Hall at the near half wall. Hall saw Nico in the slot and fired a slick pass towards him that Hischier calmly redirected by Saros to make it 2-1 Devils.
The second period would see a weird play in the midway point of the frame. Hall was called for tripping PK Subban when it was obvious from replays that Subban went down on his own with Hall not even touching him. He simply lost an edge. The officials got together and discussed it and the call on the ice was reversed, meaning play would continue at 5-on-5. This was a good job by the officials to make sure they got the call right and did not make a phantom penalty call.
Nashville, however, would not need the power play. Viktor Arvidsson tied things at two at the 13:06 mark of the second, getting assists from Kyle Turris and Roman Josi. Arvidsson simply ripped a shot by Keith Kinkaid’s glove to get the equalizer.
But the Devils would only need 40 seconds to answer back. They took a 3-2 lead at 13:46 when Hischier got his second of the game. It came when Sami Vatanen banked a pass off the boards to Palmieri, who stepped just inside the Predators’ blue line. He saw Hischier breaking towards the Nashville net and threw the puck up to him. Nico tipped it by Saros on the doorstep to give the Devils the lead.
Some missed opportunities for the Devils in the third period, as Saros came up huge for the Predators. Midway through the period, Palmieri (who had assisted on all three of the Devils goals) seemingly had scored, but the puck had entered the net behind Saros after the whistle had been blown by the referee. It was a seemingly quick whistle, but replays showed that Saros had made the save and the puck trickled in once the whistle blew play dead.
At 12:25 of the third, Marcus Johansson was called for holding and the Predators went on the power play. Blake Coleman was robbed on a shorthanded breakaway by Saros and the Preds took the puck the other way. At 13:40, Forsberg scored from Ryan Johansen and Subban to tie the game at three.
Time would run out with both teams getting a point out of the game, but it would take OT heroics if the Devils were to get their first victory on home ice against Nashville since 2015.
It was the first overtime game for both teams this season and the Devils really pushed the pace the whole session. But in the end, Nashville took the extra point when a Kyle Turris shot redirected off of Andy Greene’s leg and past Kinkaid to make it 4-3 Preds. Mattias Ekholm had the lone assist on that.
So the Devils did not come away with the win, but they did take it to a very good team in the Predators. Stats-wise, the Devils held the edge in hits (16-15) and blocked shots (13-11).
Individually, Vatanen again led the Devils in ice time with a more tame 25:52 (1:31 on the power play and 5:26 on the PK). Hall led all forwards in TOI with 20:04 (3:11 on the PP/one second shorthanded). Hall also had two points – both assists. Palmieri (three assists) and Hischier (two goals) also had multi-point nights. Miles Wood led in shots on goal with seven while Severson led in hits with three. Gryba and Greene tied for the lead in blocks with four each while Johansson, Quenneville, Zajac and Hall each had three takeaways to lead that category. Palmieri would be named the game’s third star while Hischier was the second and Nashville’s Turris was the first.
Next up for the Devils, they take on the Florida Panthers on Saturday at 12 noon at Prudential Center. This is the final home game for about a seven game stretch. I will be attending this game live and will have the recap up as soon as possible.