Tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Nashville Predators was like an inverse of their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last night. In that one, the Devils and Blackhawks were relatively close for two periods, the Devils scored first, but Chicago pulled away in a period where they dominated the play to make it a 1-3 loss for the Devils. Tonight, the Predators dominated the first period, scored the first goal, and pulled away late in the third period, which was more even in the bigger picture, to hand the Devils a 1-3 loss. Again, Cory Schneider was amazing in spite of the team in front of him. Again, the defense leaves a massive heap of stuff to be desired. Again, the passing ranged from crummy to less crummy.
However, it wasn't quite a mirror image of the last game. For starters, Nashville crushed the Devils in the first way worse than Chicago did in the third. The Predators out-shot the Devils 20-3 in that period alone. And these weren't cheap shots from the perimeter. Oh, no. We're talking odd man rushes. We're talking Colin Wilson getting open in the slot on the same shift twice only to be robbed by a pad save. We're talking two power plays - both caused by Adam Larsson - where Nashville just flexed their special team muscle. We're talking the Devils getting over loaded and caught on the weak side because they can't seem to communicate or be fast enough to defend that spot. It's how Matt Cullen got the game's opening goal. It's all because of #35 it wasn't a blowout. That's no exaggeration. It's also no exaggeration the Devils stunk worse than a garbage dump made of used diapers and hair on fire for twenty minutes. That was different.
The power play was also different. The Devils' power play actually resembled one. The Devils got two breaks in the second period by way of two delay of game penalties. Mike Cammalleri came close to converting the first one off a sweet pass by Steve Bernier in front. Pekka Rinne absolutely robbed him. The second one did yield a goal. Eric Gelinas unleashed The Truth for the first time in a long, long time. He missed the net, but the force of the shot led to a massive rebound off the end-boards. Bernier piled the puck past Rinne and it was 1-1 in the second period. The Devils actually out-shot the Predators and were only slightly behind in attempts. Nashville missed the net a bunch more and the Devils weren't always run over, so it was nice to see a handful of attacking shifts. The power play goal was the first in quite some time for New Jersey. I was pleased enough that the power play resembled one; I am quite pleased with the PPG.
The opposition took the lead in one of two even-ish periods. Nashville definitely had the better run of play in the third period despite only out-shooting the Devils, 10-8. They earned their goals, though. They had more shifts with pressure and one of them succeeded. Colin Wilson, who was robbed earlier tonight, finished off a lovely feed by Victor Bartley, which was set up by a lovely pass by Mike Ribeiro for the go-ahead goal. Nashville kept attacking (they had a 3-on-1 shortly after the goal) and they were rewarded again. Craig Smith got an insurance goal when he went behind Gelinas and Travis Zajac, got around the net with the puck, and put in close. The Devils, for some reason, pulled the goalie with less than two minutes left but there was no hope of a comeback. At least Nashville didn't tack on an empty net goal - another difference from last night's game.
Lastly, the big difference between both games was that Nashville's dominant first period established what most of us expected. The Devils remain as a bad team, the Predators are a very good team, and it would've taken another stroke of fortune for the Devils to steal a point (or two!) tonight. That first period just dug the Devils deep into a possession hole and piled some dirt on it. The Devils were more respectable in the other two periods, but when they got pinned back - which wasn't as often - it was more of the same from the first. In that Chicago game, that was a case of starting decently and having the game get away from them. Nashville got away from them from the second or third shift.
All the same, the result remains. The Devils lost 1-3, it's their fourth straight game without a win, and the team as constructed has no hope of doing anything. But we knew that after last night and most likely a long time ago.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Over at On the Forecheck, Jonathan Garcia has this recap wherein he notes that the Predators won five straight. I wonder what a five-game winning streak feels like...
The Game Highlights: Over at NHL.com, here's a highlight video of tonight's game:
Still <3 You, #35: Before the game, I was confused at the fact that Cory Schneider started this game. He played against Chicago and didn't have a light night of work. A few minutes into the first period, I was incredibly happy he was in net because he was the sole reason why Nashville didn't run away with the game within a first period that felt a lot longer than twenty minutes. As I said in the Chicago recap, he's the main reason why it's worth watching this team because he's the only one who's likely to bring his "A" game on any given night.
Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh: While the second and third periods weren't so bad, I'm not going to praise a defense that conceded 38 shots tonight. The team defense was just abysmal in the first period and by game's end, they were out-shot 19-32 at evens and out-attempted 36-60 at evens. The pairing of Adam Larsson and Andy Greene were the best of a bad bunch. I can't say I'm pleased with how Larsson played, given his two penalties (one of them in the offensive zone) and while he had a couple of shots on net, he also created some odd man rushes for Nashville. Greene can only do so much.
But Larsson looked like Lidstrom compared with the other four. To say they were bad would be an understatement. Marek Zidlicky demonstrated that he can't defend and created some odd man rushes for the opposition too. Jon Merrill isn't good enough to account for that. I struggle to envision someone wanting Zidlicky. Likewise, I struggle to see how Merrill is supposed to get better from all of this. Peter Harrold got rolled over so bad, I half-expected him to turn into a 2D image of himself. Eric Gelinas may have created a PPG, but his idea of defensive zone coverage seems to be either strolling to the play, reacting a second or two late, or getting his ankles proverbially broken by players who don't traditionally do that (Matt Cullen! Seriously!). The Gelinas-Harrold pairing resembled the Fraser-Harrold pairing of recent weeks, which should tell you a lot about Kurtis Foster Version 2.0 (hint: that's not Harrold or Fraser).
Tootoo Watch: Jordin Tootoo only played 14:22 tonight. He played like he you'd expect, minus the "tough stuff."
Something Better: These Dainius Zubrus managed to lead the team in shots tonight, including two of the Devils' three first period shots. Zubrus wasn't completely run over like he was in Chicago. Given the state of where he's at in his career, that's fine. I did like that Jaromir Jagr did not take a penalty and at least made more than just a handful of attempts. Alas, four out of his five attempts didn't get to Rinne. While Scott Gomez proved to the world that he may have trouble defending a wet paper bag at times, he didn't pass up the puck when he had an opportunity to shoot. Given that I wrote that for Gomez, it's something to appreciate - even if it's not that much.
Something Worse: Whereas the unit of Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Tootoo was the best one in Chicago, they were probably the worst tonight. Zajac was uncharacteristically in over his head in his own end. Elias was just making bad decisions with the puck going forward. Since Tootoo is, well, Tootoo, that line got wrecked the most. Most of the forwards got beaten up in terms of possession, but they were the worst. There were also had some dire shifts of Gomez, Bernier, and a not-so-visible Adam Henrique getting pinned back that made the game look like men (Predators) among boys (Devils). Jagr has never been one to defend, and Tuomo Ruutu and Mike Cammalleri had their struggles as well. But Elias and Zajac have been and should be expected to be more poised in their own end. Not so tonight. When that happens, well, games like this happen.
Well, This Didn't Work: Martin Havlat came in for Michael Ryder tonight. He wasn't totally invisible on defense, but he contributed very little offense. Unless I'm mistaken, it appears it was he who missed his assignment that led to Wilson's eventual game winning goal. If his plan was to prove to the co-coaches that he should replace Ryder, then he didn't really make a good argument for it tonight.
The Powerful Predators: A lot of Predators had very good games tonight. Rinne was impressive; like Schneider, he's excellent in most games. Wilson was all over the place on offense with seven shots on net, including a goal. Smith got four, including a goal. Shea Weber bombed four shots on net as well. But it wasn't just their top players who impressed. Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley were seemingly always going forward when they were on the ice. It wasn't just Wilson or James Neal getting free for open shots that forced a tough save by Schneider. Gabriel Bourque, Taylor Beck, and Cullen were able to do so, with Cullen getting a goal. It's one thing for the big minute players to win their match-ups; when the depth players do so, then it speaks to how well the night went for Nashville.
Lastly: I know Steve Cangelosi and Ken Daneyko are trying to be positive, but will someone at MSG please tell them it's OK to admit this Devils team isn't going to make the playoffs. And remind them of that if/when the Devils get some wins on their upcoming six-game home stand? Thanks.
Your Take: The Devils lost to Nashville with a hideous beginning and not as hideous end. I want to know your take about it. What did you make of the Devils' performance overall? What, if anything, should be learned from it? Who was the best and worst Devils skater? What about Nashville, what do you think of them now that you've seen them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's loss in the comments.
Thanks to Brian for doing the preview, thanks to those who commented in the Gamethread, and thanks to those who followed along through Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.