For the vast majority of this game, this was a case of two stereotypes turning out to be true. The New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators combined for an effort that was high on defensive plays, featured a few standout plays by the goaltender, and low on actual, dangerous offense. For the vast majority of the game, Roman Josi's power play goal in the first period was the difference maker and it looked like it would hold up. The Devils and Predators may have been skating hard, pressing hard, and so forth, but neither were generating much in terms of volume or quality. The old generalizations for both franchises turned out to be true on this evening, resulting in a dreary game that didn't do much to entertain the barely 11,000 people at the Rock tonight.
Then things opened up within the final three minutes, literally with the Devils' net. The Devils pulled their goaltender, Keith Kinkaid, with about three minutes left to play. Charging down the ice, Cody Hodgson held Jon Merrill to try to get at the puck to ice the game. The refs called it and so John Hynes pulled Kinkaid again should the Devils win the faceoff on the resulting power play. Their previous power play at 5-on-4 was a waste of two minutes, the rest of the night's effort yielded only nineteen shots and few that really challenged Pekka Rinne. So Kinkaid was pulled when they won the faceoff. Shot, save by Pekka Rinne, loose rebound, and cleared from distance by Josi to really dampen any excitement of a 6-on-4 power play down only one.
This did not deter Hynes from pulling Kinkaid a little later. The Devils were able to set-up into a 1-4-1 formation; just an extra body with the middle man in their 1-3-1. From where I sat, it was a clogging of the slot. It also worked. Andy Greene fired from the center point and Kyle Palmieri tipped it to beat Rinne. With the game within one and 1:40 left on the clock, Hynes banked on pulling Kinkaid again. After an attempt at an attack, Greene lost control at the right point and everyone had to re-set. They did, and the pass went across to Mike Cammalleri. He fumbled the puck to Eric Nystrom, who fired it up ice to truly ice the game at 1-3. Kinkaid was pulled again, but there would be nothing for it.
Ultimately, pulling the goaltender was an aggressive move that didn't pay off. I can respect Hynes doing what he did. It's not like he did it with a fraction of a penalty kill to go. With a power play, down one, and not a whole lot of offense made otherwise that night, I get it. Down two? Sure, why not. Goal differential isn't going to be dealbreaker this season anyway. Yet, that will be the focus instead of the 57 minutes or so where the Devils worked hard to gain very little, they made choices that did not help them, and they didn't punish a Predators team that didn't exactly continue their strong effort from the first ten minutes or so. Where was the aggression then when it could have made more of a difference? What was done didn't really work and it hasn't really worked so far in this short season where only one true even strength goal was scored by the Devils.
It's true that the Devils didn't get dominated, but they didn't do much to exert any of their own. If zone time was recorded, I wouldn't be surprised if they spent more time in Nashville's end than New Jersey's. But where were the attempts? They had 33 all game compared to Nashville's 38. Where were the shots to challenge a good goalie by Rinne? Yes, Nashville's defense is quite good but they didn't have to do a ton of extraneous work, especially when the Devils were committed to the dump-in as they were for most of the first half of tonight. This was a game that was competitive but not for some of the right reasons like it was in Washington. Either way, they got undercut by their dumping, they eventually got dumped for going aggressive with the extra skater, and others will dump on both teams for playing a game that everyone claimed they always did for the last twenty years.
The Opposition Opinion: Jonathan Garcia at On the Forecheck called it an "uninspiring" win. I can't disagree with him. Nashville could have really ended this early on had they kept up their forecheck and pushed for more counter attacks against the Devils, who weren't exactly sharp on their puck possession tonight.
The Game Highlights: Sure, there were highlights of this game. There's a video at NHL.com of them. Here it is:
Solid Keith: Among all of the Devils tonight, it was clear to me Keith Kinkaid was the best. With Cory Schneider now a father, Kinkaid got the start and showed why he was kept as the #2 goalie. He was solid in his positioning. He made a few tough saves, most notably on Cody Hogson and Calle Jarnkrok in the second period where neither could get a puck up and over the outstretched left leg. He wasn't particularly pleased with the one goal he did give up to Josi. It did go through his five hole. I'm more sympathetic, he did have to quickly change his angle for the shot. Moving will leave that hole open. Still, even if it was a bad goal, it's only the one goal. I think he had a fine night otherwise.
Stop This Experiment: The Mike Cammalleri-Travis Zajac-Jordin Tootoo line needs to end. I've seen enough of it last season. Tonight, it was a mess. Cammalleri was terrible in that he didn't do much and the few times he had an opportunity with the puck, it all went awry. He had no shots on net, he had no official attempts on net, and his cough-up of the puck yielded that second empty net goal. Tootoo, on the other hand, was terrible in that he was trying too much. Between the two, I'd rather see too much being tried than not. Yet, Tootoo demonstrated why he's regarded as a fourth liner or at least a bottom six player. He was attempting passes that had little of a chance to work. He would rush up ice for a potential odd man rush and make the wrong decision that made it easy for the Predators defense to end it. His fronting on the power play yielded nothing; even in the 6-on-4, he was nearly shadowing Palmieri even when out of formation. All told, Tootoo got one shot on net, one that hit the crossbar, and one offensive zone penalty for tripping Seth Jones in pursuit of a puck for twenty minutes of work. Twenty minutes of Tootoo. This line may have been positive against Washington, but I've seen enough of it not succeed last season and tonight to want to see something different. Whether Tootoo's in over his head or Cammalleri needs to be with a different center, I don't know. But Zajac certainly can't do well with one winger not able to even get shots off and another winger who's trying to play over his head and not really succeeding.
Bottom Six Praise: Contrary to that line, I have more positive things to say about the bottom six tonight. Stefan Matteau exerted his speed, his body, and provided more energy to warrant being moved up a line. And it went fairly well. These are the sort of nights he should be putting on the ice to warrant games. Stephen Gionta and Tuomo Ruutu - stupid, costly tripping penalty off a neutral zone faceoff aside - had positive nights as well. Lee Stempniak ended up leading the team in shots with three. The only real point of criticism I have is that they're instructed to dump in the puck. I don't like that alone, but I really don't like it when they try to skate it up to the red line and they fire it before they get there. The refs catch that and hit them with an icing when all they had to do was skate the extra five feet forward before firing. It's not like the Predators were up in their grills and forcing them to release the puck early. Still, the bottom six did more tonight than they did in the first two games and arguably were just as offensive as the top two lines, which weren't that good.
The Re-Return: Damon Severson re-entered the lineup and had a solid game. Nothing too fancy from him. It would have been nice if he ended up being a difference maker. But given his turnover issues in the first game, I'm satisfied that didn't happen again this evening. With John Moore presumably coming back soon, I'd think David Schlemko would be the next odd man out. He didn't have a noticeable game in either end and with seven defensemen on the roster, one has to try to stand out in a good way. Of course, Hynes could go with seven - but I have more of an argument in favor of that tomorrow.
Moving Predators: With the Predators potting two ENGs on their way to twenty shots tonight, many eyes were more on those defending. As they should. While Shea Weber had an OK night, Roman Josi was very good. His two goals help, but he was being bossy in his end to help get the puck out and in some rare cases, lead it to actual offense. Seth Jones and Barrett Jackman were very fluid - which was a surprise given it's Barret Jackman. The two handled their business very well. I felt only Cody Hodgson, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal were really trying to press the issue on offense at times, but even that wasn't really constant.
Again, it was weird to watch as the Predators looked like they had the right gameplan for the Devils. It was to the point where the Devils weren't going D-to-D much prior to their zone exits; they were forced to move it up ice more quickly. Yet, after Josi's goal, they took their proverbial foot off the pedal.
Two Last Thoughts: One: The Devils weren't even the only team to concede two empty net goals tonight. The Caps did to San Jose. Two: San Jose is going to eat this kind of Devils performance alive provided they play to their level.
Your Take: The Devils lost their third game of the season in a game that yielded more empty net goals against than actual goals against a goaltender. What's your take on how the team played tonight? Did you like it, dislike it, or are you somewhere in between? What would you do with the team's top six provided you'd want to make changes? Who did and didn't you like from either team tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread, followed along on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog, and those who read this recap.