In the bigger picture of an 82-game season, tonight may not look so bad. The New Jersey Devils hosted the Nashville Predators, a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season, and ended the night with a 3-4 overtime loss. While winning the game would clearly be better, taking a point against a team with as much quality as Nashville is not bad. That said, in the moment of this evening, I can understand how this loss by New Jersey can be seen as a disappointment.
For the third straight game, the Devils conceded a crucial goal within the final ten minutes of the period. For the second out of their last three games, the Devils took a lead in the third period and lost that lead along the way. For the first time this season, the Devils went into overtime and were rather unsure of what exactly to do. Not that Nashville came in droves, but the game winner came from a simple play. Kyle Turris skated the puck up ice, took Andy Greene head-on, used him as a screen, and fired a wrister that may have hit off Greene’s stick to launch the puck up and past Keith Kinkaid. No fancy plays, no pin-point passes, no misdirection to throw the opposition off. Just a man beating a defender and a goalie. This OT finisher came after a final few minutes in regulation when the Devils had opportunities to score but could not finish, which came minutes after Filip Forsberg tied the game up on a power play goal one-timer - which occurred not long after Blake Coleman got denied on a shorthanded breakaway. This was very much a competitive game that the Devils could have won and now enter their final home game on Saturday until mid-November with a three-game winless streak.
That is true. And I can even understand that sentiment. I would like to present it in a different perspective.
The Predators came into this game without having played last night and with a 7-2-0 record. Their roster on paper features one of the best bluelines in the league with forwards spread out well across three lines. Despite being significantly out-attempted in the first period, the Devils went ahead of the Preds in shots 18-17 and kept up in what would turn out to be a high-shooting game. The following two periods was closer from a Corsi, shots, and chance standpoint; so while the Devils were -6 for the game in attempts per Natural Stat Trick, it was on the strength of a first period that still ended 2-1 in New Jersey’s favor. After two straight games where the Devils were bad at keeping puck possession, attacking, and not taking penalties; the Devils were much better in all three areas. You do not put up 35 shots in regulation without making good passes, applying pressure, and taking advantage of what is given. The Devils were better about their passes, their exits, and their entries. In terms of penalties, the Devils only took four of them tonight and while one turned out to be costly, they weren’t as brainless as some of the ones in their last few games. The power play still contributed a goal. The top line flexed their scoring muscle as they were involved in all three goals scored. And it was refreshing to see the Devils try to pull ahead in a 3-3 game instead of playing for overtime or hoping to escape there against a quality opponent.
In other words, while I would have liked to have seen a win like any other good Devils fan, I recognize the Devils put in a much better performance than their last two outings. Were there things that could be better? Absolutely. But it was not as awful as the performances against Colorado or in Philadelphia. I do not think John Hynes needs to make any significant points in practice, assuming there is even one on Friday given the early Saturday game.
That being said, this is still a results-oriented business. The Devils have a long road trip looming after Saturday, so it is now imperative that the Devils do not get down on themselves and head into Tampa Bay with four winless games. They should seek to build on what they did right rather than worry about what went wrong this evening. They did get something out of the game and that is something to work from.
The Opposition Opinion: Shaun Smith at On the Forecheck has this brief recap of the game from a Nashville perspective.
The Game Highlights: As usual, NHL.com has the highlights from tonight’s overtime loss.
Heat Check - They’re Still On: Kyle Palmieri may not be scoring goals but he keeps picking up assists. He had three tonight to bring his total points to 10 for the season. Taylor Hall has a six-game point streak with two assists tonight; he now has nine helpers in 2018-19. After plenty of shots close to the net (as noted here by Todd Cordell), Nico Hischier earned a brace with two re-directions that beat Juuse Saros. This line finished above 50% in 5-on-5 play; and the Devils significantly out-shot their competition when either was on the ice in 5-on-5 (11-7 for Hischier, 11-5 for the other two). In other words, this line is hot right now. John Hynes was right to keep them together and he should let it ride and ride and ride some more.
The only time these three were not so good would be in OT. Palmieri was not as sharp on the puck as he should have been; he was nearly stripped after his first touch of the puck. Hall did not really get much going. Hischier tried to take on defenders and ended up losing possession in a situation where possession is paramount. It was the first OT situation for the Devils in this 2018-19 season, but they could have been better. But in regulation, this was truly the team’s top line.
Heat Check - He Ain’t Hot Anymore: After starting off the season with only four goals allowed in four games, Keith Kinkaid has allowed eleven in his last three starts. Worse, he gave up his first truly soft goal tonight. Yannick Weber fired a wrister from the wing from a long distance and it just beat Kinkaid. Yes, the puck was wobbling a bit but it did not get deflected and Kinkaid was not screened. He was beaten shortside on a shot he should have caught. Bad goals happen to everyone at some point. This was Kinkaid’s. At least it did not decide the game.
That said, I do not think Kinkaid played a really poor game. On the contrary, he helped the Devils escape a couple of their penalty kills. When the Devils were leading and they had a lull where Nashville just pinned them back for minutes, Kinkaid kept up with stops and freezes to deny Nashville from going up at multiple points. His best save was a quick reaction on a Rocco Grimaldi one-timer in the slot among his large amount of work tonight. Again, there were shifts where the Devils skaters were bodied and Kinkaid did what he could to keep them in it.
Unlike their past games, Nashville would eventually equalize two more times. Viktor Arvidsson hammered a slapshot gloveside that I’m not sure Kinkaid was screened on (Stefan Noesen stepped up a bit late but he wasn’t totally in Kinkaid’s vision) to make it 2-2. Forsberg made it 3-3 as Kinkaid was forced to go post-to-post, which is never an easy situation for a goalie. The Turris goal may have been a result of Greene being used as a screen plus possibly touching off the shot. I’ll leave it to you to decide if these goals were soft - maybe the Arvidsson one, I’m not sure - but it was not as if Kinkaid could not buy a save tonight. I think it is more that he’s not as hot as he was, say, a week and a half ago and so some of these shots that he stopped then are not as easy to stop.
I feel bad for criticizing a goalie like this because, again, I do not think Kinkaid was so bad or that he solely lost the game. At the same time, it is not likely for the Devils to score four on a regular basis to make up for a possible third GA. With Cory Schneider not far away in the distance, this may be a bad time for Kinkaid to be cooled off. It is what it is.
Gryba Debut: Eric Gryba made his New Jersey Devils regular season debut tonight. He slotted in alongside Will Butcher in place of the injured Ben Lovejoy. From a possession standpoint, this pairing got eaten up as the Devils were out-attempted 6-15 in 5-on-5 play. Shots were closer at 6-8, but that’s still not positive. However, a closer look at Natural Stat Trick shows that differential was largely driven by two-plus minutes of bad shifts with Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen. (Aside: The Devils’ fourth line was, well, not good tonight but Boyle was not as a bad and the trio did not do something stupid like Zac Rinaldo taking an illegal contact to the head penalty. (Aside #2: Rinaldo is on this team? Nashville, you can improve your roster by putting anyone else there.)) And outside of Weber and Anthony Bitetto across from them, the Devils did not get especially lit up when Butcher-Gryba saw a certain line. From what I observed, I did not think Gryba was notably awful or poor. Slow? Yeah, he’s definitely not winning many races. Physical? I guess? But was he a waste of space? No. He did not get torched too badly by any one player. He stayed out of the box. He was not a mess on a penalty kill. I would say that despite the poor CF%, he was not a disaster. I’m not sure if Yegor Yakovlev would have been better. Do I think he’s a viable long-term replacement? No. Is it the worst for the Devils if he plays? I don’t think so.
Flying: Miles Wood led the Devils with seven shots on net and definitely used his speed well on multiple occasions. He also made the most of one of the best off-the-puck plays of the game by the Devils. In the first period, I think it was Travis Zajac (if not him, it was John Quenneville) and Wood set up a quick neutral zone trap on a Predator. Zajac hit the player, the puck got loose, and Wood swooped in to take it and make a zone entry. The rest of the shift featured multiple attempts by that line. Given how OT turned out, I would not have minded Wood being given a shot there. At least over Marcus Johansson, in my view.
Sigh: Marcus Johansson had received an awesome pass late in the third period during the Devils’ final power play of the night. He collected it and shot it - when he should have one-timed it. Alas, the opportunity was lost. And that play summed up his performance. When he would rush forward, he deferred when he could have taken initiative or had a go himself. While he took four shots on net tonight, which is usually a good thing, the shots did not really challenge Saros. When he got stuck back on defense, he was not particularly effective and even took a pretty weak holding call for it (it ended with Forsberg’s goal). In OT, he was just a guy out there. I’m waiting for this solid, second-line-caliber forward to emerge and make a difference. Pavel Zacha was only a little better in the run of play but he was helping out along the boards and won pucks to make somethings happen. Jean-Sebastien Dea is a bit over his head in the lineup and it stunk he missed wide on two 2-on-1 situations tonight, but he’s trying his best and he’s not being hammered. Travis Zajac, returning from injury, put in a fine shift of work tonight. If only he finished Quenneville’s pass late in the game, but he helped strengthen the center position and it was noticeable tonight. It would be great for Johansson to make a positive statement on a game this season and tonight would have been a good one to start. For all of the laments about how the Devils do not have much going on after the Hischier line - which is true, as of now - Johansson is someone I’d like to see more from. That’s my takeaway from his performance tonight.
Settling Down: In the first period, Sami Vatanen made several attempts to make long passes into or through the neutral zone. This led to the team’s first big turnover of the game plus multiple lost possessions. It was as if he was instructed to go long or try to catch the Predators unaware (which they rarely were) instead of making a shorter, more direct pass to either Palmieri, Hall, or Hischier - three guys you can trust to go forward. The good news is that he seemingly let up on this in the second and third periods, opting to go for them when space was available. This helped the Hischier line attack more and it led to Vatanen also being involved in the offense with five shots on net in total. The Devils out-attempted Nashville 21-16 and out-shot them 14-6 with Vatanen was on the ice in 5-on-5 play. This was an adjustment, as I understood it, that worked out well. I hope Vatanen will start the game with that approach instead of getting caught seeing a forest regardless of the tree in his way.
Speaking of, Damon Severson effectively told the critics to settle down a bit too. While Greene-Severson were not dominant tonight, they held themselves well in the run of play. Severson had a very sweet goal from the center point to open up the game’s scoring. He also played the most minutes at even strength tonight with 20:44. He did not make a really bad play or error that I can immediately recall. I think Hynes knows he has a good thing going with 6-28, so let that pairing ride on too and enjoy it if/when they directly contribute on the scoresheet.
Even Faceoffs Were Better: While I do not think they were a big reason why they lost on Saturday, the Devils were owned at the dot in Philly. Tonight, they broke even. Zajac was instrumental as he went 11-for-17, Brian Boyle went 4-for-5, and Pavel Zacha broke even at 6-for-11. In total, the Devils and Predators each won 33 draws. Faceoffs do not really correlate with wins or losses in the bigger picture, but it is another positive compared to their previous game.
Who Caused Problems on Nashville: I thought P.K. Subban was held mostly in check tonight. I come home and find out he had five shots on net, he led Nashville in CF% and SF% in 5-on-5 play, and Nashville had more chances with him on the ice than what they allowed. He really had a way better night than I thought. I also thought the forward goalscorers, Turris, Arvidsson, and Forsberg were giving the Devils fits and they were in 5-on-5 play. While they did not dominate, they did more than enough to make the Devils fans sweat a bit.
Overall, though, I thought the Devils “hung” with the Predators. There were some stretches where the Preds did what they wanted and NJ could not buy a shooting attempt. And then there were stretches where it seemed like the Devils were going to score and Nashville was hoping they did not. It was a somewhat even game despite how it ended.
Disallowed: There two notable disallowments.
In the third period, Palmieri fired a hard shot on Saros and Saros caught it. Just as the whistle blew, Palmieri helped Saros slide into the net. Was it a goal? No. The ref immediately waved it off and it was the right call. The ref lost sight of it, Saros had possession and did not drop it before the whistle, and you can’t just help a goalie into his own net.
In the second period, Subban lost an edge with Hall nearby. For reasons unknown, the ref at center ice raised his hand and signaled for a tripping call. Play stopped as the Devils touched up. But instead of granting the PP and possibly giving out a make-up for the error, the refs had a small conference and decided to not call the penalty. Which was the right call as Hall did not take out Subban’s skates or even touch him as the defender fell. Given the stoppage in play, they had a faceoff to the right of Kinkaid - which was fair. I do not want to say I’ve not seen it before, but it is rare. I appreciate that Hall did not get two minutes for actually being near a player who fell on their own.
One Last Thought: Bring a coat to the Devils game on Saturday. The Devils Coat Drive will be running and there will be vouchers for free games for those who bring in a coat. Yes, by helping somebody out, you can get a free game. So make sure you take care of that for Saturday.
Your Take: The Devils lost in OT to Nashville, 3-4. You’ve read my opinions and observations from the game. What did you think of the OT loss? Are you pleased the Devils got a point out of it? What should they have done differently tonight? What can they takeaway from this game to help themselves prepare for Saturday’s game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Ryan for the game preview and to Mike for providing the tweets through @AAtJerseyBlog. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter. Thank you for reading.