After twenty minutes of tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Nashville Predators, Devils fans around the world had every reason to feel good. The Devils out-shot their competition. 9-3, and arguably out-played them for most of the period. The Predators didn't just look tired, they looked out of sorts with constant turnovers and misfired passes. The Devils jumped on them early with two early goals. Patrik Elias delayed on a 3-on-2 rush to hit a trailing Adam Larsson with a solid pass. Larsson sniped one high past Carter Hutton. Minutes later, Eric Gelinas unleashed The Truth to convert a power play. The Devils were close to getting a third goal, but few complaints could be had by such a period. It was a good period against a very good team that wasn't so very good.
Then came the rest of the game, which was a storm of shots by Nashville. The general concept of score effects is that a team leading by a couple of goals will get out-shot. There's being out-shot and then there's conceding twenty one shots on net. The Devils responded with only six. That's just Nashville dominating the period. As if the visitors needed more incentive to play hard than A) getting out played in the first period, B) losing by two goals, and C) losing a few games in a row; they got D) an early goal to cut it to a 2-1 score. That goal was the result of Craig Smith fishing a loose puck out to Mike Fisher, who essentially had a lay up. They took those incentives and said, "Can you stop all of this?" as they consistently attacked over and over again. Fortunately for the Devils, Cory Schneider said, "Sure." Fans around the world developed that familiar feeling of a lead hanging in the balance.
The third period was more even in terms of shots, Nashville only led 10-7. The early part of the period was still very much in control by the Predators. It wasn't until Shea Weber took a holding penalty did the Devils stem the bleeding. Not that the Devils did much with that power play, but they would be able to mount some actual offense at times afterward. That familiar fear of an equalizer grew with every attempt, rush, and crash of the net by Nashville. However, the Devils were able to better handle the third period by keeping a slower pace than the second. Hutton was pulled with a bunch of minutes left. Mike Cammalleri got awarded the automatic empty net goal when Seth Jones tripped him up, sealing the game. And with that, an exhale of relief instead of dreading another lead lost.
The Devils withstood another storm of rubber and possession, largely in the second period. Schneider was again the star of the night if only for stopping all but the one he didn't. And he couldn't have stopped Fisher's shot. For a second straight game, Schneider preserved the lead. I would have preferred to have seen the game continue on from that strong first period. Alas, such is the game.
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 Report | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Dan Bradley has this recap at On the Forecheck, noting that it's Nashville's fourth loss in a row.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's two goals by young defenders and a lot of Schneider doing things:
The Return of Severson: Damon Severson returned to the lineup for the first time in a long time tonight. It was a gameday decision. As a result, the Devils iced seven defensemen, moving Peter Harrold to winger for a few shifts on the fourth line. The hidden message here is "Martin Havlat and Michael Ryder, you're not that good."
Severson had an OK night given the circumstances. In general, he looked rusty and struggled with the pace of the game at times. For example, his "defending" as the one in a 2-on-1 late in the first period was horrid and didn't actually defend anything. Still, he wasn't invisible in terms of a contribution. He got two shots on net and Nashville didn't pick on him in terms of possession. He had some solid shifts of his own in his sixteen or so minutes; he had a little power play time. I think he'll get back into form in a game or two.
When that happens, it'll be interesting to see where the Devils slot him. Tonight, Adam Larsson still played - and played well - with Andy Greene. He got the majority of his minutes with Jon Merrill tonight. We'll see if that stays together.
Speaking of Harrold: Harrold was really up for it as a winger. He had some good passes and registered three shots on net. For someone acting as the twelfth forward and playing less than ten minutes, that's a good bit of work. I wouldn't go with it for future games, but tonight, it worked well. I think Harrold realizes that he needs to do put in a good effort wherever he's used should he want to stay in the lineup. We'll see if that's enough to remain as the #6 defenseman in the near future.
Picked On: I hope so because Mark Fraser was bad yet again. Bad on the puck. Bad away from the puck. Bad in terms of positioning. He likes to throw hits, he got some hits, but I wonder whether those hits really helped out. Fraser was tied for being the worst in possession among all Devils skaters at evens tonight. Bizarrely, he got plenty of shifts against some of Nashville's best like Filip Forsberg and Colin Wilson, and some of Nashville's best performers tonight like Mike Santorelli and Calle Jarnkrok. Those shifts often did not go well.
Multiplying the badness was his partner, Eric Gelinas. Yes, we got The Truth for a power play goal. It was great. That moment was great. Nearly every match-up he had for more than a few minutes went against #22. He was often pinned back and struggling to keep the play away. The Devils have been out-shot a lot this season, so I'm used to seeing defenders play a lot in their own end. There, you can spot the differences between someone who's good at it and someone who's bad at it. We can see Adam Larsson and Andy Greene as better than the rest because they can get some stops at the start, they tend to only give up one or two opportunities and when they go for a clearance, they make it count. With Gelinas and Fraser, it's an adventure and not a fun one. I don't think the answer is Gelinas-Harrold, but at this point, there are few answers. That's the truth beyond that one awesome shot he had.
After the Goals...Uh...: The Devils didn't generate a lot of shots after that first period; only thirteen in the next forty after nine in the first twenty minutes. The shots they did get tended to be in good locations and taken well enough to force Hutton to put in some effort. What's surprising was that only two forwards managed to get multiple shots at Nashville's backup. Harrold was one, the other was Mike Cammalleri. He put up six of the Devils' 22 shots. Something about a man with one eye leading the valley of the blind comes to mind, though Cammalleri clearly has two of them. It would have been great if someone else among the forwards put up more rubber in response; even Travis Zajac and Jordin Tootoo, although they were making room for #23 to do it.
He also got awarded the game-icing goal. With Hutton pulled with a few minutes left, the co-coaches couldn't just throw three defensive-minded forwards and ride them out. But they would get an acceptable unit of Zajac, Cammalleri, and Stephen Gionta (what, you wanted Tootoo to defend a one-goal game) out there. Gionta and Fraser (really) got the puck up and out to Cammalleri. Cammalleri drove in on the empty net, but he was hauled down by Jones. Cammalleri attempted a shot while falling, but the referee gave him an automatic empty net goal. From his perspective, the foul prevented a sure goal. Peter Laviolette and Jones argued otherwise, but I think the ref was right. Nevertheless, the goal was a good bonus for the one forward expected to be a leader on offense actually being a leader on offense tonight.
The Stars on the Visitors: Roman Josi and Shea Weber flexed their collective muscle all night long. While they faced quite a few attempts, they helped Nashville generate so much more. Weber wasn't firing away, but Josi was with five on net and three attempts blocked. Their third pairing of Cody Franson and Victor Bartley was solid as well, Bartley's penalty aside. Mike Santorelli had an awesome night, getting shifts with Forsberg (three shots) and James Neal (three shots) while putting up four shots himself. Mike Fisher didn't just the goal but three other shots while anchoring a unit with Matt Cullen and Craig Smith. Smith was just everywhere. In addition to setting up Fisher, he put up six shots on Schneider. The Predators needed a period to get going, but when they did, these guys were just constantly seeing roaming around with the puck or roaming with their teammate who has the puck.
Lousy (S)March Weather: Due to a winter storm mixing snow, sleet, and rain, many fans decided tonight's game wasn't worth the trip. Myself included. Hopefully everyone who did make the trip got there and got home safely.
Schneider is Awesome: It's true.
Lastly: The Devils now have a record that is called NHL .500. Given that the NHL has had ties for a long time, an even split between wins and losses really doesn't mean much. It's referring to 50% of potential points earned, or points percentage. A 50% winning percentage now would mean the Devils would have 32 wins, which they don't have. In any case, the Devils have worked their way up to it. Let's see how long it'll last.
Your Take: The Devils won their second game in a row and can now seek a streak on Friday night. While the Devils got out-played more than they out-played Nashville, they picked up the win on the strength of an early lead and another great night from #35. What did you make of tonight's game? Who impressed you? Who did not impress you? What did you think of Severson's return? How about Harrold at forward? Did you go to the game, and if so, what was that like? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in tonight's gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.