Bounces. Those who want to honestly understand hockey needs to understand that events happen out of one's control. They range from re-directions to shots off or through bodies to miscues by goaltenders. Luck always play a role but the more common term is "bounces." In tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators, all four goals in regulation were direct results of these types of plays.
Consider the first one. Cory Schneider misplays a puck behind the net. Rather, he hesitates with it on his stick. A routine dump-in suddenly turned non-routine when the Predators stormed after him. The puck is lost and quickly gets up to Shea Weber in the high slot. Schneider gets back into the net but by the time, there's bodies in the way and Weber hammers a rocket. Right past Schneider, off the crossbar, and in.
Consider the two goals by the Devils in the second period. Patrik Elias streaks down the wing and fires a high shot. A shot that looked like it was going to go wide. But a shot almost all goalies will go after instead of risking a goal allowed on misjudging it. Carter Hutton reached out with his glove and it appeared to an easy grab. Yet, he just didn't catch it. The puck propelled out of the glove and into the net. Not the top of the glove, not the side of the glove, but the actual pouch of the glove. In, out, and into the net. That was the equalizer. The go-ahead goal saw Jaromir Jagr curl around open in front of the net after a rotation by Patrik Elias. Weber was right in front of the net. Jagr fired it at the defender, it directed off Weber's body, and it dropped through the goalie. An error and a bad bounce, and the Devils were up 2-1.
Consider the third period equalizer. If it sounds familiar, then it's because something similar happened last night. As the Devils were defending the 5-on-6 situation late, the Predators were trying to find a lane. They stayed to the perimeter, hoping to get one long shot through. With about fourteen seconds, Roman Josi wound up and fired. Jagr got a stick on the puck in the hopes of knocking it away from the net. That happened, only it went way left of the goalie and right to David Legwand. The longtime Predator was just hanging out as the extra man, hoping to keep the puck moving in case it went wide or whatever. Instead, the puck went right to him and he had nothing but net. He wasn't going to miss and he didn't. 2-2 with eleven seconds left.
Four goals as a result of some unexpected error or event. Four goals as a result of bounces. Unfortunately, the fifth one wasn't a lucky play. It was a simple rush up-ice by Weber and Colin Wilson. Marek Zidlicky and Jon Merrill didn't handle it well. Weber got an open shot and Schneider couldn't make the save 1:29 into overtime. The Devils were denied a regulation win from a bounce. They were denied a win at all from poor play at the end. Such is hockey.
The Opposition Opinion: Dirk Hoag has this recap up at On the Forecheck.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's the highlight video of tonight's game.
About the Run of Play: The Nashville scorer was rather generous with the shot count at times, but I do think the Predators enjoyed the better run of play for the first two periods. I'm skeptical that they ended up with 33 shots, but I am not as skeptical that they out-shot the Devils in the first two periods. The Predators were considerbly better on the puck than Dallas. They forechecked well early and they got guys backchecking well early. The Devils didn't really get many opportunities in space.
I did think the third period went much better for the Devils. Like in the Dallas game, they came close to getting that third goal and they did a lot of good work to keep Nashville honest. But, like in the Dallas game, a loose puck yielded an equalizer. But unlike the Dallas game, the Predators played a stronger game overall than the Devils. They forced Cory Schneider to be very good, which he was again.
In defense of the Devils, uh, defense, they were shorthanded for most of the game. Anton Volchenkov left the game after five minutes into the second and his third shift in the second and did not return. It wasn't apparent during the game as to why he was out. So with five defenders for about half of the game, it got iffy at times. I felt they tried to hold themselves up well. They did concede fewer shots with five defenders than with six; but that was also helped out by the Devils' forwards pushing the play more often from being one-sided.
On Attack: Once the Devils got going after a rough first half of the game, the Devils were able to push up forward to make things happen. While the two goals against Hutton were fortunate, there were some good performances. I liked Michael Ryder tonight. I'm sure fans still rue that he could not finish a breakaway in overtime. But with four shots and good moves on forward, I can't complain. Likewise, Ryane Clowe put up five shots, with four coming in the second. I thought he was closest to getting the insurance goal, but he put a rebound off the backboards but only into the side netting. Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias played well enough, even if they got lucky on their respective goals.
The big issues I had from the offensive effort was that those four guys put up most of the production. Yes, I understand those are the players one may want to shoot. Better shots from the forwards in closer positions than, say, long shots from the points. But the rest of the team combined for only nine shots. Moreover, it took quite some time for the team to get going. The beginning of the game had shots few and far between until the Devils' first power play. The second period also had a slow start before the game opened up. While better starts may not have necessarily yielded a third goal, the Devils weren't going to get it without shooting more.
Loktionov's Return: Andrei Loktionov was inserted into the lineup tonight in between Damien Brunner and Patrik Elias. Loktionov played 12:31 over 15 shifts and he was OK. Nothing really special or standout about his play, really. Elias played better with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. Brunner didn't really accomplish much, neither did Dainius Zubrus after he was moved down. While Loktionov being decent may be fine for you and me, it's not necessarily good news for him. If he wants to stay in the lineup, then it would have been to his benefit to have been more active and make more things happen. He needs to prove to the coaches that he is good, he can contribute, and the only way to do that is to be good and contribute when the opportunity presents itself. That was tonight and, well, one shooting attempt (a block) on the boxscore isn't much.
What of the Captain: Bryce Salvador wasn't utterly terrible tonight. That's a positive step, though not a big one since he was abysmal against the Stars. I wonder if Volchenkov's absence helped Salvador? Not that it's ever good that a player doesn't return to the rink. (Cheering or praising an injury is a great way to get banned on this site, FYI. I want Volchenkov to be OK.) But getting shifts with Mark Fayne, Jon Merrill, and even Marek Zidlicky had to have been an improvement at times. Neither are as plodding as Volchenkov and may carry more awareness of what's going on around them.
One Point: As much as I didn't like seeing Legwand getting a gimmie to tie up the game, it's not as if the Devils got nothing out of this game. The second point would have put them tied with Carolina in points. Instead, they're one behind them and tied with two other teams at 58. That said, the Devils really could use wins now.
Rather than lament two straight games with extra-attacker goals conceded, look to the lack of an extra goal. The risk of these 2-1 or other one-goal games is that something out of one's control can end it all in a blink of an eye. Like puck getting knocked away from a skate as the player stands up or getting a touch on a shot. It happened in, well, the last two games in extra-attacker situations. With the Devils starting Cory Schneider throughout the three game road trip, it's clear to me that the team sees him as the #1 man. But the larger and more difficult issue of production remains. That needs to be addressed quite soon. And the answer definitely isn't Eric Gelinas since the team struggled to score with him playing all of those games. Perhaps there will be a new one before February 7.
Your Take: What's your take on the Devils' 3-2 OT loss to Nashville? What do you think was the team's biggest issue in the game? Who do you think did well? Who do you think did not do so well? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
Thanks to those who followed along here and on Twitter through @InLouWeTrust. Thanks for reading. Aside: The month in review will be up later than usual tomorrow.