First Period: The Nashville Predators were quick to score - as Mattias Ekholm scored just 42 seconds into the game when his wrist shot deflected off Blake Coleman’s stick. MacKenzie Blackwood could not adjust to the change in shot elevation, and the puck hit net. 1-0, Predators. Jason Tinordi got the only assist on the goal.
The first penalty came two minutes and 53 seconds into the game, as John Hayden came onto Colton Sissons, and Sissons high sticked him in the face. On the Devils’ power play, the Predators got an early clear, and the Devils got reset just over halfway into the first minute, before Sami Vatanen failed to hold the zone on a pass; and the Predators cleared the puck on the following entry. With 41 seconds left in the power play, Nick Bonino poked a pass to Damon Severson out of the zone. As the Devils re-entered again, Kyle Turris stripped Damon Severson as he passed, and he tripped Turris to prevent a breakaway.
With 31 seconds of four-on-four, Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha kept the puck in the offensive zone with a great physicality on the boards. With seconds left on the four-on-four, Nico fought off two Predators, protecting the puck on the boards before dropping a slick pass to Pavel Zacha, who was all alone for a quick move on Pekka Rinne for a shorthanded goal as the Predators power play began. 1-1.
On the Devils penalty kill, the Predators failed to get much going, as the Devils cleared the puck multiple times in the shortened advantage. A shot from Craig Smith with eight seconds missed the net. At even strength, Pavel Zacha nearly scored again as Wayne Simmonds found him in the slot. All alone, Zacha tried to sneak a shot above the pad, but Rinne got the glove on the shot and covered it.
The Devils would fail miserably on defense on the following play. Roman Josi found Viktor Arvidsson close to the net as the backcheck lagged behind. MacKenzie Blackwood stopped one shot, but Filip Forsberg followed up on the rebound, which was easy enough for him as Blackwood was out of the crease and was knocked into by Kyle Palmieri. Very passive defense from the Devils led to the score becoming 2-1, Predators.
Pavel Zacha appeared to be boarded right in front of a referee with about 7 minutes and 10 seconds left in the period, but there was no call. Instead, play went the other way, and MacKenzie Blackwood made multiple saves before Jack Hughes blocked a shot, allowing the Devils to clear the puck. With six minutes and 10 seconds left in the period, Sami Vatanen’s stick was broken with a slash right in front of a referee, and there was no call again. Then, Damon Severson’s skate blade broke, and the Devils played with three skaters with a stick and a skater without a stick while he hobbled to the bench and Vatanen got a new stick, because there was no call on the clearly stipulated penalty.
With a couple minutes left in the period, John Hayden got a loose puck in the neutral zone and beat a Nashville Predator, getting a two-on-one with Kevin Rooney, against Roman Josi. Hayden went for the pass, and Josi slapped the pass away with ease from one knee.
Travis Zajac slapped a bouncing puck off a pass from the Sami Vatanen to Nikita Gusev for a one-timer with 15 seconds left, but Rinne got the glove down again to stop the shot from going right over his left pad. Thus, the period ended with a 2-1 score, with the shots even at eight-eight.
Second Period: The Devils took the first penalty of the second period just a minute in, as Blake Coleman took Dante Fabbro down by the boards. Thus, the Devils went on the penalty kill for two minutes. The Devils managed to prevent the Predators stringing multiple passes together, as Andy Greene and Pavel Zacha made some timely interceptions nearby the net. As the Devils worked the puck down the ice with seconds left on the penalty, Damon Severson dumped the puck off the boards back to himself for a one-timer, which gave Rinne a bit of trouble but was saved.
Nico Hischier nearly created a goal as a wrist shot from the high slot handcuffed Rinne, and Jesper Bratt nearly scored on the rebound as Rinne scrambled back for the second stop.
The Nashville Predators fired away several attempts at MacKenzie Blackwood in the sixth minute of the period, as the Devils couldn’t get on a rebound or block any of their quick passes around the zone. None of the shots appeared to end up being on goal, but it was chaotic for a short while.
The Predators took a penalty just under seven minutes into the period, as Ryan Johansen hooked and slashed Nikita Gusev behind as Travis Zajac set him up as a trailer on the rush. Gusev went around the net, unable to shoot, and passed to Zajac, who pulled the puck back for a shot that was blocked into the air. The Devils went to the power play, however.
On the power play, the Devils failed to get anything going in the first minute. However, they managed to cycle for a point shot from P.K. Subban with 50 seconds left in the power play. The shot turned into a reboud, but Vatanen couldn’t get to it quick enough. After a clear, the Devils re-entered, and the puck made its way to Pavel Zacha near the blueline. Zacha’s shot went past Simmonds’ stick and between the wickets of Wood, past Rinne. 2-2.
The Predators took another penalty, and the puck was touched up after a long delay with 10 minutes and one second left in the period. Nikita Gusev was high sticked in the face by Matt Duchene, and the Devils returned to the power play.
Pavel Zacha nearly got a hat trick on the power play, as he rang a shot off iron from the faceoff dot. However, Nikita Gusev - the person who set Zacha up - got on the rebound close to the red line and scored a sharp angle power play goal, with the primary assist from Pavel Zacha and a secondary assist from Damon Severson. 3-2, Devils.
It would not be long until the Predators tied the game. On the rush, Damon Severson blocked a shot from Craig Smith. Nick Bonino got in behind Severson and snuck a shot past Blackwood, who couldn’t get into position quick enough after the block. 3-3.
Jesper Bratt finally got the netfront goal he was hungry for with just over two and a half minutes to play in the period. After entering the zone, Bratt made a sweet pass to Kyle Palmieri, who went for a far-side move on Pekka Rinne that pulled him out of position; and Bratt’s rebound attempt made it past Rinne. Will Butcher got the secondary assist. 4-3, Devils.
The period ended after MacKenzie Blackwood made a last save on a Matt Duchene one-on-one rush shot. A second attempt went wide. After two periods, with the score 4-3, the shots were 22-14, Devils.
Third Period: After Nashville iced the puck 23 seconds into the period, Matt Duchene played a give-and-go in the neutral zone, and shot the puck off Andy Greene’s stick to tie the game. 4-4. The assist was to Ryan Johansen.
Two minutes into the period, Rocco Grimaldi intercepted a zone exit pass from Pavel Zacha and had a chance to shoot on Blackwood. He went high on the forehand, and Blackwood made the stop with his arm.
John Hayden beat Pekka Rinne right off Kevin Rooney backhand faceoff win six minutes and 37 seconds into the period. It was a good shot, and it was Hayden’s second goal of the season. 5-4, Devils.
The Devils took a penalty nine minutes and 20 seconds into the period, as Wayne Simmonds hooked Colton Sissons as Sissons was on the forecheck. A two minute power play for the Predators ensued. The Predators were pushed out of their zone early as Roman Josi had trouble handling a pass. After re-entering, Filip Forsberg skated around after feigning pass to Josi at the top of the zone. Coleman bit on the fake, and Forsberg sniped the puck past Blackwood. 5-5. Roman Josi got his 50th point of the season with his assist.
Miles Wood intercepted a pass in the defensive zone with under nine minutes to play and decided to speed down the ice on his own after chipping the puck past Roman Josi. He could not settle down a bouncing puck, however, and Pekka Rinne gloved it for a stoppage.
MacKenzie Blackwood saved the game for the Devils, as they were hemmed in their defensive zone with three minutes and 30 or so seconds to play. Mikael Granlund got a pass in the low slot, and he went to his backhand as Blackwood went down onto the ice for the save.
With two minutes to play, Ryan Ellis’ pass was broken up by Kyle Palmieri at center ice, and the Devils went back-and-forth before the Predators regained possession for about 20 seconds of offensive zone time that included just a missed shot attempt from Watson.
In the final minute, very little happened except for exchanging possession until the final ten seconds. Andy Greene fell on the ice while skating backwards with the puck, giving it up to Mikael Granlund. From his stomach, Greene managed to hit the puck a couple times with his stick, but Granlund still made a move and got a shot off that Blackwood had to stop. He did, and the game went to overtime.
Overtime: With Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier, and Damon Severson on the ice to start overtime, the Predators won the initial faceoff, choosing to breakout from behind Rinne. Josi dropped the puck to Matt Duchene, who centered the puck to a cutting Josi but could not connect. Zacha, Bratt, and Vatanen came on after a failed counterattack, and they mostly played defense - not allowing any dangerous shots. Nikita Gusev made a good move around multiple Predators to get a backhand attempt off that went just wide on the shift following.
With under two minutes to play, Will Butcher dropped a puck for Pavel Zacha to shoot from the right facoff circle, but Viktor Arvidsson went to one knee to block it. Arvidsson took it all the way for a shot, which Blackwood saved and froze.
Jack Hughes stole the puck behind the Nashville net with 15 seconds left in the period. Hughes took the puck from behind the net, looking to pass to Coleman in front but instead went to Vatanen for a blast from above the high slot. Rinne made the stop with ease, and after another faceoff the game went to shootout.
Shootout: As the first shooter, Filip Forsberg went in quick on Blackwood, going quickly backhand-forehand and past Blackwood. 1-0.
Nikita Gusev followed, going slow and making a wide turn before cutting down the middle. His shot went past Rinne. 1-1.
Matt Duchene went second for Nashville. He made a quick fake and then a backhand shot that went high past Blackwood. 2-1.
Jack Hughes attempted to go five hole, but Rinne closed it down.
Ryan Johansen was very close to stopping, making as many moves as possible before using his reach to try a long backhand. Blackwood stretched his leg far back.
Kyle Palmieri tried to pull the string and shoot low to Rinne’s right pad, but it was sent wide by Rinne. Nashville wins with a 2-1 shootout.
The Opposition Opinion: For the Nashville perspective, visit On The Forecheck.
Return of Hynes: Former head coach John Hynes made his return to The Rock with his new team for the first time. The game was, in terms of possession, chances, and expected goals, basically even. I thought it was interesting that the team did not give him a formal acknowledgement, but it is what it is.
Pavel Zacha’s Revenge: Pavel Zacha is someone who appeared to suffer quite a bit from Hynes’ coaching. His usage decisions under Hynes were generally bad, and his constant lack of skilled linemates handcuffed his ability to grow in the NHL. Tonight, Pavel Zacha scored two goals and got a primary assist from a shot that came millimeters from making it a hat trick.
So far tonight, Pavel Zacha has a PPG and SHG. Zacha is the first #NJDevils player since Mike Cammalleri to score a PPG and SHG in a single game. Cammalleri did so on 3/31/15 in a 3-2 OTL to Columbus.— Craig Seiden (@CraigSeiden) January 31, 2020
The SHG was practically even strength (four-on-four), as I didn’t really see a fifth man get back into the play as the Nashville penalty expired before the goal was scored. But, it does add to the ridiculousness of Pavel Zacha’s propensity for producing on the penalty kill, so I’m here for it.
The Second Period Curse Reversed: Under John Hynes, the Devils were known for losing many games after giving up multiple goals in usually the latter stages of the second period. It was a rather ridiculously predictable phenomenon in some stretches, so I found it amusing that the Predators had a second period collapse tonight. But, the Predators came again to play after the second intermission - also a theme at times of the Hynes tenure in New Jersey.
Scratch-Trick: John Hynes drew the ire of Devils fans early this season for scratching Nikita Gusev, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Bratt. Since his firing, Gusev and Bratt have especially found their scoring touch, while Zacha has seemed more comfortable on the ice (especially shorthanded). Tonight, all three scored - combining for four of the five Devils goals, while Gusev was also the only Devil to score in the shootout.
Bad Day for the Zajac Line: Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Nikita Gusev is usually a combination that works really well at even strength. Tonight, that was not the case. In a team-leading 14:01 of ice time together as a line, they had a CF% of 57.14 but a shot differential of 5-8, with an xGF% of 28.55 (0.32-0.81), being on the ice for three goals while scoring none. While this line is usually great for scoring chances, they also fell behind the competition with only two to Nashville’s six against them. MacKenzie Blackwood did not have an easy time with them on the ice.
Great Day for the Hischier Line: However, the Bratt-Hischier-Palmieri line showed its true potential as a first line today. In 12:31 together, they had a 66.67 CF%, an 8-1 shot differential, a 78.28 xGF% (0.76-0.21), and six high danger scoring chances leading to one goal. They were also used in all situations, with an even split of zone faceoffs (six OZ:six NZ:six DZ), with their defensive zone starts doubling both the Zajac line and the Rooney line. Frankly, I do not understand why Alain Nasreddine did not get force this line as much as possible on the ice late in the game, instead making moves such putting Zacha-Rooney-Simmonds on with 40 seconds remaining in the third period.
Your Thoughts: What did you think about tonight’s game? Was this more the defense’s fault, or Blackwood’s? Or the coaching’s? Did you approve of Alain Nasreddine benching Jack Hughes in the second period? How did you feel watching both Hynes and Nasreddine-coached teams play each other? What did you think of the Devils’ number of giveaways (eight on the score sheet to two for Nashville) tonight? Did you think Blackwood was being screened by his own defensemen tonight? Is Miles Wood learning how to use his speed properly again? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.