Hockey, Predators Silence Devils 3-2
Special Teams Undo Devils By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
“It’s back in our building and we should be bringing our A-Game.”
That was the message from Devils’ Head Coach Lindy Ruff ahead of his team’s game against the Predators Friday night at Prudential Center in Newark New Jersey.
Unfortunately, what transpired on the ice during the game was a prime example of how much the Devils still need to grow before they can beat a perennial playoff team like Nashville without being at their best. During their 3-2 loss to the Predators, New Jersey’s special teams let them down as the power-play was unable to generate momentum for the team and the penalty-kill gave up a critical goal late in the second period.
“I feel like we were skating well in the first period,” Devils Captain Nico Hischier said. “(Then) we got a little loose in the second and third. At the end of the day it’s not the result we wanted.”
After their fast start to the game (two power-plays in the first 10-minutes of the game) the Devils were held in check by the Predators for much of the second-half of the opening period. Then, with just a couple minutes left on the clock, New Jersey regained its first-half form thanks to a two-on-zero scoring chance. Jack Hughes and Andreas Johnsson broke in alone on Juuse Saros. Nashville’s netminder turned aside Johnsson’s first shot and then his second when the puck cycled back to him seconds later.
“Tonight we had some good looks,” Hischier explained. “We just have to stick with it. We can’t get frustrated.”
From there, the remainder of the first period was controlled by the Devils, who managed to draw a third power-play opportunity with 1:55 left in the period. That power-play briefly carried over into the second period to no avail.
After killing off New Jersey’s third power-play, Nashville went to work with a power-play chance of its own. The Devils penalty-killers kept the Predators off the board thanks in large part to the strong goaltending of Blackwood.
Once the game shifted back to even-strength Nashville continued to push the pace for several minutes. However, it was the Devils who managed to break the scoreless tie when Pavel Zacha – who was left alone in the slot – deposited Jesper Bratt’s pass from behind the net past Saros for the 1-0 lead at 11:34 of the second period.
New Jersey’s lead lasted all of 1:37 as Roman Josi was left alone in the slot and fired a wrist shot past Blackwood, knotting the game at 1-1. Nashville then built on the momentum from that goal by drawing a power-play with 3:32 remaining in the period. And on their second power-play, the Predators did what they couldn’t on their first – score. Eeli Tolvanen sent a blast from the left face-off circle past Blackwood and just like that the Devils trailed for the first time in the game.
Moments after Tolvanen’s goal, Nico Hischier TKO’d Mikael Granlund in a quick fight, briefly sparking his team. “He cross-checked me after the face-off,” Hischier said. “I have to stand up for myself.”
On to the third period and the special teams battle continued as New Jersey again came up empty on a power-play (their fourth of the game). Then, with 6:11 gone in the third period, Yakov Trenin upped Nashville’s lead to 3-1 on a second chance goal that started with a strong breakout by the Predators.
“It’s no secret they won the special teams (battle),” Hischier told the media. “Special teams can make a difference.”
The Devils made things interesting late when Jack Hughes sent a cross-ice pass to Yegor Sharangovich with time winding down. Sharangovich promptly one-timed the pass past Saros with 65-seconds left in regulation to bring New Jersey within 3-2.
Unfortunately, that was all she wrote as New Jersey was unable to come up with the tying-goal.
“We out-skated them in the first period,” Pavel Zacha said. “We need to do that for a full 60-minutes…We have to create more chances…We just have to execute.”
1) The Devils are really good at moving the puck quickly. Sometimes to their own detriment. Quick passes are essential to creating chances on offense as it prevents the opposition from getting its defense set. On the other hand, if you move the puck too quickly you risk passing up quality chances to shoot the puck yourself.
Case in point, New Jersey was gifted two power-play opportunities during the first 10-minutes of the opening period and was only able to register one total shot on goal. The Devils’ quick passes had the Predators scrambling to get in position, but that also meant players such as Damon Severson, Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes were passing up chances to shoot the puck themselves.
“We could have gained a lot of momentum from our power-plays,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff explained. “We were skating well…We looked like a real fast team…We had some good zone entries but didn’t execute.”
It’s more important to get shots to the net and then go to work on the second or even third chance opportunities. The Devils are a young, skilled team. Once they learn to simplify things a bit they’ll be scoring goals in bunches.
Remember, if you get pucks towards the net, good things will (eventually) happen.
2) One of the Devils’ tendencies this year has been to start strong and then cede control of the game in the second period. That happened again tonight. Nashville went to the power-play (their first of the game) 50-seconds into the middle period and even though the Predators didn’t score with the man-advantage they did control play for much of the next 11-minutes; racking up nine-shots during that time to the Devils’ three.
“I thought our first period was very good,” said Ruff. “For the most part I thought we skated well and moved the puck well…The next step is to take advantage…(Nashville) got their chances and took advantage…When you don’t take advantage it’ll come back to haunt you.”
3) Mackenzie Blackwood has developed into a strong, technically sound goaltender. His quiet positioning allowed him to repeatedly stonewall Nashville’s skaters during the Predators’ early second period shots barrage. With Jonathan Bernier on IR for the foreseeable future and New Jersey currently on the outside looking in of the playoff picture, the Devils will likely ride Blackwood hard in an attempt to climb back in the playoff race.
4) Nico Hischier is more than just a vocal Captain. Late in the second period he dropped gloves with Mikael Granlund and obliterated Nashville’s center with several big rights. From time-to-time a Captain needs to walk-the-walk and get his hands dirty. Hischier did just that in his first career fight.
As Lindy Ruff said, “every man on our team needs to be able to stand up for himself.” Hischier definitely did that.
Nico Hischier’s fight with Mikael Granlund was the first of his career…New Jersey’s power-play went 0-for-4 on the night while the penalty-kill went 1-for-2…Damon Severson led all Devils skaters in power-play time (4:27), tied with Ryan Graves for penalty-kill time (2:40) and finished second on the team in total ice time (21:45).