The Nashville Predators fell to the New Jersey Devils in a shoot out 3-2 at the Bridgestone Arena. In this contest, there were aspects that were good, bad, and ugly.
Unlike their previous effort, the Predators opened the contest with good jump and were able to solve the Devils trap game. The Devils cycle the puck well, and the Predators weathered the early pressure exerted by the visitors. The breakouts were crisper, and the Predators were able to cycle the puck in the offensive zone and create pressure of their own.
This effort resulted in a 2-0 lead after the end of the first period. The Predators first tally came at 12:22 of the period on the power play as Colin Wilson continued his solid play, re-directing a pass from Sergei Kostitsyn past Devils netminder Johan Hedberg. Wilson has played with fire in his belly and has been consistently good in all aspects of his game.
The Predators notched their second goal 1:21 seconds later, at 13:53 as Jerred Smithson was the beneficiary of a great cross ice pass from Jordin Tootoo. With Nick Spaling in front occupying Hedberg, Smithson was able to fire the puck into an open net for a 2-0 Predator lead.
Pekka Rinne was solid in net, making some great stops early to keep the Devils off the board. His play in net continues to keep the Predators in contests, and he is moving well and exhibiting the great glove hand that he has shown throughout his career.
Once again, the Predators gave up double digit shot totals in every period, and a total 38 in three periods and another 3 in overtime. This is entirely too much, and gives the other team numerous opportunities to score. The reliance on Rinne is a tribute to his skill, but the Predators have to tighten up their defense.
There were stretches where the Predators seemed totally unable to get out of their defensive zone, much less exert any offensive pressure. At times, it was a victory for the Predators to get the puck out of the defensive zone. The lapses are problematic because it puts an inordinate amount of pressure on the defense and Rinne.
Sergei Kostitsyn took a slashing penalty at 19:50 of the second period. On the ensuing power play to start the third, Pekka Rinne was run into by Patrick Elias. Shea Weber responded by taking a shot a Elias and was called for cross checking. On the power play, Ilya Kovalchuk blasted a shot by Rinne to cut the deficit to one. Apparently, it was permissible for the Devils to run Rinne with no call or consequence. That was a big momentum swing for the Devils, as they controlled play for much of the third period.
David Clarkson, he who had served a five minute boarding major earlier in the game, tied the game at 7:57 of the third. The Devils had dominated play and had been swarming the Predators in their own zone, and the effort by the Devils was rewarded with the tying goal.
The Predators did muster a few offensive chances late, but were unable to bury their chances. Once again, a lead had been squandered late.
The overtime was scoreless, forcing a shootout. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise scored on beautiful moves against Rinne, while Cal O'Reilly and Matt Halischuk were stopped by Hedberg.
This is a painful learning experience for this young squad. The game is 60 minutes and this team cannot take rest on a lead, but must continue offensive pressure throughout the contest.
The ability of Rinne is without question, but when teams pour an abundance of shots on the net every night, it is not a formula for consistently winning games. The defensive effort has to get better.
There are flashes of great play. Those flashes are often surrounded by lapses that cost this team. Those lapses have to be eliminated for this team to be successful.
Brian McGratten showed why he is on the roster, as he toyed with the Devils heavyweight Cam Janssen while pummeling him in a lengthy bout. McGratten even took his free hand and used it to exhort the crowd while holding Janssen at bay. The fact is, however, that McGratten, didn't see the ice in the third period, effectively putting the Predators down a forward.
The Predators continue as a work in progress. This young team is going to experience some growing pains. We are seeing them now.
If this team is going to make a strong push to the playoffs, they are going to have to grow up quickly.
My three stars:
1. Johan Hedberg
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Ilya Kovalchuk