After the first period, I thought this was not going to be a good game for the New Jersey Devils. The home team, the Nashville Predators, were up 2-1 due to two PPGs and during even strength play often did whatever they wanted to the Devils. Keith Kinkaid drew a lot of "Oooohs" from the crowd from being forced to make several tough saves early. That's not a good sign for the skaters, who haven't put up a good performance since their last win. After the second period, I was more hopeful. While still down 2-3, the Devils actually played like a competent hockey team that was down a goal. After the third period, I was pleased the team forced a late equalizer to earn their first point since their last win. After Adam Henrique slammed in his second rebound of the night on Pekka Rinne's left, I was ecstatic. The Devils stunned Nashville late in regulation and took the game in overtime with a 5-4 score. Which Devils fans can't be happy with that?
The win certainly does not help their cause to drop in the standings for the 2016 NHL Draft (neither did the Flyers getting owned by Edmonton (Aside: Ha ha!)). However, that was the furthest thing from my mind tonight. Recall the three straight games the Devils lost before this game. They were outscored by a combined total of two to thirteen. They haven't scored more than one goal in any of those games. Most of all, the Devils looked like people who were new to the game of hockey going up against people who knew what they were doing on the ice more often than not. Tonight, I got to see a Devils team actually sharpen their game as it went on, not look like total scrubs for the most part, score multiple goals, and pull out an unexpected victory. That's hardly something to complain about.
In general, Nashville certainly enjoyed the better run of play. While Nashville ended up out-shooting the Devils by only one, they certainly held an edge in attempts. In even strength play, they led 57-43. The lead did not come from just the first period. They out-attempted the Devils in all three periods. However, the Devils made them pay on special teams. They put up more of a fight in the latter two periods; so much so that shots for that period were sitting at 3-2 in favor of Nashville for a long, long time. They got favorable breaks for their goals. In retrospect, this was similar to how the Devils won a good number of their games this season. Whereas the other team arguably played a good game overall, the Devils found a way to win despite some issues with how the game played.
While I would normally point out how that's bad, I will refrain from that. The Devils played a much better game than they did in the previous three nights - I know they out-attempted and out-shot Carolina but it wasn't exactly threatening. It was better to watch as a fan. As time went on, I felt it was a game and not just on the scoreboard if you catch my drift. I would not have complained if the late goal by Filip Forsberg held up as the winner since this was world's better than those blowout losses to Columbus and Tampa Bay. Do I think this is the start of some kind of surge? Let's not go that far. For now, let's appreciate the win before the Devils head to Dallas.
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 Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Jonathan Garcia has this recap at On the Forecheck, noting that Adam Henrique broke hearts. Scoring the late equalizer to force overtime and scoring the overtime winner will do that.
Important Note: Nobody killed a penalty tonight. Nashville got two power plays. Shea Weber made an awesome pass across the Devils' zone, using a very wide and straight passing lane, right to Craig Smith. Smith beat Kinkaid to convert the first one. Late in the first period, Roman Josi took a long shot and Mike Ribeiro got a tip in front to make it 1-2. They went 2-for-2 and should feel good about that.
The Devils got three power plays. That goal in the first period? Jacob Josefson took a low shot and the rebound caromed right to Kyle Palmieri in the right circle. Palmieri buried it and made it 1-1 at the time. Just before midway through the third period, David Schlemko made a bold and beautiful diagonal pass to Travis Zajac in the right circle. Zajac fired a low laser to beat Rinne and make it 3-3 at the time. Lastly, there was the overtime winner. John Moore made the initial play, Travis Zajac forced a close shot on Rinne, and Henrique buried the rebound to end the game. It was very much a feast for the Devils' power play as they went 3-for-3.
I'm sure the coaches responsible for the PK aren't at all happy with that result. The power play coaches will take it.
Another Thing About that Last Power Play...: This one came off a very odd decision by Rinne. Shortly after David Warsofsky took a shot on net, Rinne came way out of his crease. He covered the puck, lifted his glove to try and play it, and then covered it again. Rinne was by the hashmarks, mind you. The referees determined this was a delay of game call given that Rinne was nowhere near the paint. It turned out to be a costly decision by the goaltender. It's my understanding Nashville's head coach wasn't happy about the call. Bummer.
The Worst One: Given the emphasis on power plays, I do have to note that one of Nashville's goals was one of the worst I've seen in some time. The Predators are rushing up and they gain the zone. Austin Watson is by the left side of the zone with the puck and Warsofsky tries to engage. Stupidly, Jon Merrill decided to come over to help. Even more stupidly, Tyler Kennedy did not pick up Paul Gaustad going down the middle of the ice. Watson made an easy pass to an incredibly wide open Gaustad. He smoothly beat Kinkaid with a backhander and made the game 1-3 at the time. The play got Kennedy a benching during the game. I don't know if Merrill was punished, but I don't think it's a coincidence that he played fewer minutes than all of the Devils' defensemen.
Speaking of, I agree with Gerard and his post earlier on Thursday. Damon Severson needs to be in this lineup. For all of his issues this season, Merrill has plenty of his own. For the first half or so of this game, he displayed them ranging from bad positioning, slow decision making, and not making good decisions on the puck. While Andy Greene and Adam Larsson got pinned back more often than not, when things get tough, I can feel fine with 5-6 not panicking. Merrill? Who knows when he gets into trouble. In my view, Warsofsky was the better player of their defensive pairing tonight and I wouldn't mind seeing Severson come in for Merrill for the Dallas game.
DSP +2: Devante Smith-Pelly made his debut on a line with Adam Henrique. With some of the line shuffling, this combination lasted for most of Smith-Pelly's ice time tonight. I don't think it well in the run of play. They got to see plenty of Forsberg, Smith, and Ribeiro and Nashville won that matchup. That said, Smith-Pelly contributed to two goals tonight. The first was his first goal as a Devil. Merrill took a shot from just past the blueline. Rinne stopped it but the puck got loose behind him. Smith-Pelly jammed his stick blade just under Rinne's left pad and poked the puck over the line. Not the prettiest goal, but any goals are beautiful if you're a Devils fan. It was important as it turned the score to 2-3 and the Devils performed like they thought they had a chance to win the night (they did). Smith-Pelly picked up an assist that was arguably more important as it came with less than a minute to play and in a 6-on-5 situation. Palmieri sent in the puck towards the middle and it hit the Devils' latest forward's leg. Smith-Pelly corralled the puck and swept it towards Rinne, forcing a left pad save. Henrique was in perfect position for the rebound and he roofed it to tie up the game at 4-4. It eventually forced overtime, where the Devils won it. While Smith-Pelly against significant competition and playing eighteen minutes is probably too much for him (it was at points tonight), the Devils don't have any real answers at right wing. With that in mind, I'd say he had a notable debut given his goal and assist tonight. I want to see more from him. And if I'm feeling snarky, I think this already means the Devils won the trade with Montreal as DSP outscored Matteau this season.
A Poll: During the first intermission, I put up a Twitter poll on the AATJ account asking who Devils fans on Twitter thought was the least useful forward. Tyler Kennedy won it by a plurality and I can't disagree. I chose Jordin Tootoo and Stephen Gionta as other name choices, though I wish I chose Tuomo Ruutu instead. And I got some individual votes for Farnham and Tlusty as well. It speaks to the Devils' poor depth at forward. Tonight, most of the least useful ones were, well, not that useful. Ruutu had one decent shot and that's it. Gionta and Tootoo added not much. Kennedy, well, he left the gate open and got a benching for a part of it.
The Mighty: Twelve of the thirty-three shots on net by the Devils came from two players: Palmieri and Henrique. Each had six shots on Rinne. They combined for three goals, as well. This is an important development. Without Stempniak and Cammalleri, the Devils' offense is weaker than ever. As much as I like Travis Zajac and I liked his goal tonight, he's not someone to rely on for production. Henrique and Palmieri need to bring it if only to help the Devils stay competitive, much less win thrilling games in Tennessee. Tonight, they did it. Let's hope it continues.
Praise for the Opposition: That Shea Weber-Roman Josi pairing is for real. I noticed their defensemen do jump on offensive rushes and most of them can contribute to the attack, whether it's to keep pucks in play in the face of pressure or firing away from various locations. Ryan Ellis was especially notable, and not just for jawjacking with Joseph Blandisi throughout the secod period. Up front, the Smith line did very well against the Henrique line. Viktor Arvidsson impressed me with his four shots and his breakaway in the third period. Given that forward depth is an issue for the Devils, I'm a little envious of a player like him. He won't necessarily decide games, but he'll help the drop off from being so deep after the top lines. He certainly did tonight. Lastly, they made Kinkaid work real hard with 34 shots, many in dangerous locations, and I thought Forsberg's well placed shot to make it 3-4 late would be the decider. Nashville's a very good team. I suspect they will be a tough out in the playoffs - assuming they get their goaltending in order. Seriously, Rinne with a penalty in overtime and five goals allowed to New Jersey? That helps nobody.
One Last Highlight: Kinkaid really came out better than a four GA night would suggest. Early on, he was forced to scramble to make saves on strong shots and second efforts. His mask even fell off early. While one could argue he could have stopped the Gaustad goal - I think he was hung out to dry there - and the Forsberg goal - ehhhh... - he certainly did a good impression of Cory Schneider. He made big stops on big blasts from Nashville's defense, he held up well under pressure when the Predators crashed the net, and he denied Arvidsson on a breakaway in the third. All that and he played through some pain. In the third period, Kinkaid came out of his net to play a puck behind it. Ribeiro was skating towards the endboards, lost an edge, and fell into the boards while taking out Kinkaid's left leg. It was an accident, but it provided a moment of pause that Kinkaid suffered an injury. Kinkaid remained in the game and finished decently. I was generally pleased with his performance despite the amount of goals allowed.
Your Take: The Devils came from behind, forced a game-tying goal within the last minute, and took the second point in overtime. I'd say that was quite good to see. What about you? What was your reaction to the game's result? How happy were you when Henrique scored the equalizer? When he scored the game winner? Be honest, did you turn off the game after Forsberg's goal? Who did you think had a good game for the Devils? What did you think of the new players? What do you want to see differently for the Dallas game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thank you to everyone who commented in the Gamethread tonight and/or those who followed the site's Twitter account, @AATJerseyBlog, during the game. Thank you for reading.