The New Jersey Devils and the Nashville Predators played a fairly even game in Nashville. One team would begin to get momentum, start going forward in their attack, move the puck well, and get some strong shots on net. And then the other team would stop it and begin to do the same thing themselves. Regulation and overtime was not enough, and so the shootout was necessary. Ridiculously fortunate goal aside by Travis Zajac, Michael Santorelli and Martin Erat were able to beat Martin Brodeur in the shootout to give the home team two points.
And so the Devils didn't win their second straight game, 3-2 via the shootout. NHL.com has their recap up complete with the box score and
I felt both teams earned a point at least from the way things went, which were quite even. I'm sure Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck will have a different take, seeing his team beat the top teams in each conference in each of their last two games. Continue after the jump my further thoughts on the game.
On the surface, tonight's game actually was even. Both teams put up 28 shots on net in 65 minutes. Both teams scored two goals each, as seen in the embedded highlight video from NHL.com. Both goals came from one player on each team: Zach Parise for the Devils, Jason Arnott for the Predators. Both Devils goals came within less than 5 minutes after Nashville's goals. Both Martin Brodeur and Pekka Rinne made multiple big saves, allowed one goal they had no real chance on due to a deflection, and allowed one goal where they just got fooled on and would have loved to have back.
There were some stark differences in this game. The moribund Nashville power play struck gold to start the third period with an impeccable deflection from Arnott. It wasn't just the goal that made it good, but Nashville set themselves up well in the zone, moved it around with ease, and had the Devils' PK just chasing them. A far cry from Nashville's power play in the second period where two Devils lost their sticks and they still took the puck away and cleared it. Nevertheless, the Devils' power play except for maybe their first one never looked as good as the one Nashville had to start the third period. Oh, and they scored on that power play (caused by a Tyler Eckford hook after a scoring chance where Brodeur robbed Jordin Tootoo - as an aside, Eckford didn't look so bad in his first game and got 3 blocks in less than 10 minutes; but that was an unfortunate penalty to take).
Another big difference was in shot efficiency. According to the Event Summary of the game, the Devils had 28 shots on net, had 11 attempts blocked, and missed the net 8 times. That's not bad, perhaps the Devils should have been more aggressive in putting rubber on Pekka Rinne. But it's far more efficient than Nashville. While they got 28 shots on net, they were blocked 16 times and missed the net 18 times. The Predators had 34 shot attempts that never got to the net and that's definitely not what you'd like to see. When the total of attempts blocked and missed shots outnumber shots on goal, that's not good at all. It speaks well to the Devils' team defense being able to at least recover/adjust/maintain their positioning and prevent Nashville players from getting clear shots at Brodeur.
A third difference was in the forecheck. The Devils didn't sit back tonight, only that I felt they weren't nearly as effective as the Predators at it. The big supporting example is how that surprising first goal was created by Nashville. Jason Arnott just made something happen by going after the puck regardless of who had it - exactly what you hope to happen when pressing an opposition in their own end. Overall, in terms of forecheckers, I was impressed with Nashville's Joel Ward. Ward was all over the place in going after Devils defenders, put up 6 shots on net (1 blocked, 2 missed), and came very, very close to ending it in overtime when he won the puck back in the Devils' end and took it near post (Brodeur was solid on the post, of course). While the forecheck didn't necessarily lead to more shots - as seen by the number of blocks and misses, good work by the Devils defense for making it difficult - they were able to sustain their offense more effectively.
Lastly in terms of differences, the Devils suffered an important injury whereas Nashville did not. Dainius Zubrus blocked a slap shot from the point in the second period with his leg and he went down right afterwards. He got up, blocked another shot inadvertantly, and went right to the bench. On the TV broadcast, Steve Cangelosi noted in between the second and third periods that he would not be returning. I felt he was missed on the ice. The Devils were pounded on faceoffs, winning only 43% of them; and it forced Lemaire to shorten his bench and double shift players far earlier than he's used to. Granted, the adjustment of moving Dean McAmmond into a center from a fourth line winger worked, as he earned his first point as a Devil. And, yes, Zubrus lost the 5 faceoffs he did take before his injury. Still, Big Z could have improved earlier and made an impact within the contest with his puck possession skills and his size in the corners and in the slot.
Hopefully, the injury will not be serious and he'll be back soon because I'm not exactly enthused about a center line up of Zajac, McAmmond, Sestito, Pelley. According to this Tom Gulitti post game post, Zubrus won't be going to Dallas and he'll have his right leg checked out further tomorrow. Gulitti noted in that same post that Zubrus while he was wearing a brace; but he was able to walk with it. I'm hoping that's a positive sign.
In any case, I think the Devils earned their point tonight and that isn't terrible. Given that they lost in the shootout, it wasn't as if they were played off the ice or looked terrible overall. Perhaps the shootout could have gone either way. They could have been more consistent with good shifts at a minimum. I get it, but again, I felt this was an even game overall between the two teams.
But to the team - and I'm confident Jacques Lemaire will make this point - the result isn't all that acceptable. Regardless of how, the fact is that the Devils didn't win. The Devils didn't respond to their first loss since the end of October with a proper result. They are now winless in two and so the pressure to win Saturday's game will likely be increased. The team will do well to not get down on themselves and work on being more consistent in their play. I don't think it's time to panic at all, but another loss would certainly starting creating concerns, regardless of how justified they may be.
Thanks for reading and I thank all the readers and commenters in Steve's GameThread. Please leave all your comments about tonight's game here.