The Nashville Predators came into the Prudential Center having been on a roll. They defeated the New York Islanders at UBS Arena last night with a game-winning goal scored with 11 seconds to go in regulation.
Nashville made their way to Newark and defeated the Devils tonight 3-2 after weathering a strong first period by the Devils.
Let’s start with some roster news for the Devils. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was placed on Injured Reserve today according to Sam Kasan of the Devils’ official website. Bernier has been battling a lower body injury. This is believed by a few on Twitter to be a possible hip injury. It is something, of course, to keep an eye on.
Recalled from AHL Utica in his stead was goalie Akira Schmid. He was recalled this morning and at the Morning Skate this morning in Newark.
Schmid currently has an 8-0-2 record with the Comets this season to go along with a 1.60 goals against average and a .944 save percentage. His save percentage stands as tops in the American Hockey League this season and his goals against average and shutouts are second in the league for 2021-22 so far. All of this information comes from Kasan on the “Inside the Devils Blog.”
In addition to this, Kasan is also reporting that Alexander Holtz will be allowed to compete for Sweden at the upcoming 2022 World Junior Championship. He will join defenseman Luke Hughes of Team USA and goalie Jakub Malek of the Czech Republic as Devils prospects who will be competing in the World Juniors this year.
As for the big club, the Devils went with the same lineup tonight against Nashville that they have iced for the last few games. Mason Geertsen, Jesper Boqvist and Christian Jaros were the scratches.
Mackenzie Blackwood got the start again with Bernier put on IR and Schmid just getting acclimated after being called up from the AHL.
Coming off of his shutout of the Flyers on Wednesday, Blackwood took the loss tonight after making 24 saves on 27 total Predators shots for an .889 save percentage on the night. He saved four of their five power play shots – the Predators were 1-for-2 on the man advantage – he was also equal to 20 of the 22 Preds’ attempts at even strength.
Going for Nashville was the Finnish goalie Juuse Saros. Saros stopped 29 of the Devils’ 31 total shots for a .935 save percentage. He got the Devils’ lone shorthanded shots and all four of their power play chances. The Devils went 0-for-4 on the power play for the night. Saros turned aside 24 of the Devils’ 26 shots at even strength.
One more item of note before we begin as Devils Insiders mentioned today on Twitter that the last time the Devils defeated the Predators at Prudential Center was December 3, 2016. Nashville had been riding a five-game winning streak at New Jersey since then.
The bad luck continued for the Devils as they came out flying in the first period and watched as Jonas Siegenthaler the the crossbar early on in the first period.
Nashville took three penalties in the first period with the Devils going to the power play for nearly six minutes out of the first twenty (the third power play bled over into the second period by about five seconds).
On the first power play, the Preds’ Tanner Jeannot missed on a partial shorthanded breakaway. Jeannot broke in on Blackwood and simply lost his handle on the puck.
The amount of penalties called on the Predators overflowed to frustration late in the first. With the Devils on the power play as time in was winding down in the period, Jack Hughes was tripped deep in the Nashville zone and immediately looked to the referee for the call.
The Predators took exception to this and, as the horn sounded to end the period, the teams came together. Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm was yelling that Hughes had dove and challenging him to fight. Hughes, according to ESPN+ ice side reporter AJ Mleczko, humorously asked for their biggest guy to take on.
This was not the end of individual battles between the teams on this night.
The Devils, according to ESPN+’s John Buccigross, controlled the puck for a whopping 60-percent of the first period. This would all eventually pay off in the middle of the second period.
At the 11:34 mark of the second, the Devils finally broke through on the big board when Pavel Zacha found the back of the net.
It came when a Nashville defender left his check (Zacha) in front of the net to double-team Nico Hischier behind the Predators net. Hischier kicked the puck along the boards to Jesper Bratt in the near corner. Bratt saw Zacha now all alone in front as the Preds were caught puck watching. Zacha took the feed on the doorstep and put it by Saros to make it 1-0 Devils.
That lead was very short lived for New Jersey, though.
With 13:11 gone by in the second, a similar situation defensively from the Devils goal.
Philip Tomasino got the puck from Filip Forsberg behind the Devils net. He drew the Devils defense to him as New Jersey was caught puck watching here just as Nashville had been on the Zacha goal.
Tomasino passed across the grain to Roman Josi at the top of the near faceoff circle. Josi had plenty of time and space and set to shoot. Blackwood came a bit out of his net to challenge Josi, who shot high stick side to tie the game at one.
Nashville would end up taking the lead before the second intermission when they scored on the power play.
Dawson Mercer was called for tripping Alexandre Carrier with 16:28 gone by in the second and, at the 17:53 mark, Nashville struck.
Josi’s shot missed the Devils net and Mikael Granlund retrieved it along the far boards. Eeli Tolvanen snuck behind Hischier, who was between Granlund and Tolvanen defending. Tolvanen moved down from the far point to the faceoff dot.
Hischier had his back to Tolvanen, who got a pass from Granlund and blasted a shot past Blackwood to make it 2-1 Predators.
And perhaps that miscue was what led to a moment of frustration by the Devils captain with 29 seconds to go in the second period.
As the Devils were in the offensive zone, Granlund gave Nico a bit of a cross check that was missed by the officials. The two skated together up ice and suddenly dropped the gloves.
Hischier and Grandlund, two players not known for fighting to say the least, had a quick scrap. It got the crowd on its feet and looked to be a bit of a turning point for the Devils.
But Hischier’s first NHL career fighting major came with an extra two for rouging, which would set up 1:30 or so of Nashville power play time early in the third.
That was evened out when Tolvanen was called for tripping Ryan Graves 40 seconds into the new frame. This abbreviated Devils power play was highlighted by Yegor Sharangovich being stopped point blank by Saros.
The Predators made it 3-1 at the 6:11 mark of the third when they got a clean break out of their own zone and into the Devils end.
The puck was thrown towards the Devils net from the far wall by Jeannot, who immediately drove to the net. Blackwood made the initial save as it was tipped by Nick Cousins and the rebound came directly to Yakov Trenin at the near side of the Devils cage. He simply tapped te rebound in to put the Preds up by two.
Nashville seemed to be in control and time would be of the essence for the Devils were they to make a comeback.
Blackwood was pulled for the extra skater with about 4:21 to go in regulation and it would take a while, but New Jersey would break through.
With a little less than a minute to go, at the 18:55 mark, Jack Hughes had the puck at the far wall and threaded the needle, making a nice pass to Sharangovich, who was camped out at the near faceoff circle. He one-timed a shot that trickled by Saros to make it 3-2. Andreas Johnsson had the secondary assist on the goal.
With the Devils down one now, time was really becoming a factor. New Jersey would not be able to get anymore clear looks at Saros and, when he eventually froze the puck with five seconds to go in the game, things were all but over.
Sure enough, Nashville won the defensive zone faceoff and time ticked down, giving us a 3-2 Predators win and giving Nashville the season sweep of the Devils.
The Devils outshot the Preds 31-27 but struggled in the faceoff circle again. They won just 48-percent of the game’s draws. Michael McLeod was back to leading the Devils’ centers with a personal 58-percent winning percentage. He was the only one over 40-percent.
As a team, Nashville had 34 hits to the Devils 18. The Devils had nine blocked shots to the Predators’ six and the Devils had eight team giveaways to the Preds’ six.
Ty Smith led in total time on ice with 22:30 – which included 4:19 on the power play. Damon Severson and Graves led the defense in penalty killing time with 2:40 each.
Hughes led the forwards in total ice time with 20:51 (including 3:47 of PP time). Hischier led the forwards in PK time with 1:49 logged there.
Zacha led in shots on goal with seven. McLeod was the leader in hits with five. Graves led the Devils in blocks with three. Giveaways were led by Johnsson, Hischier, McLeod, Bratt, Hughes, Tomas Tatar and Smith who each had one apiece. Takeaways were led by Hischier with two on the night.
Next up, it’s a quick turnaround as the Devils will play tomorrow at 7:30 PM at the Islanders. This will be New Jersey’s first visit to the newly opened UBS Arena in Elmont, New York. It should be interesting, especially considering the Isles have yet to win a game in their new digs.
That game is on MSG tomorrow, and we will have a recap for you following the final horn.
Until then, have a great start to your weekend everyone!