The Devils' road trip hit another sour note Thursday night in Nashville.
Trying to get back on track following their first road loss of the season, the Devils fell behind the Predators early and squandered a two-goal outing by Zach Parise. They wound up leaving the Music City with a 3-2 shootout loss.
Martin Erat broke a 1-1 tie in the shootout's third round, roofing the puck behind Martin Brodeur, who made 26 saves in the game. Travis Zajac had the lone shootout tally for New Jersey, and kept the Devils alive in the third round by scoring after Mike Santorelli had buried Nashville's first attempt.
Zajac lost control of the puck on his forehand, but wheeled and backhanded it under the stick of Pekka Rinne, who also had 26 saves. Rinne made a catching glove save on Parise, then stymied Jamie Langenbrunner by going into the splits for a left pad stop.
The Devils dropped their first shootout of the season (3-1) and have suffered back-to-back losses since their winning streaks of eight overall and nine on the road ended Monday in Philadelphia. They dipped to 9-1-1 away from home, where they have accumulated 19 of a possible 22 points.
New Jersey (14-5-1, 29 pts.) climbed to within one point of idle Washington for first place in the East, and closes out its three-game trip Saturday night in Dallas.
Thursday's defeat wasn't a result of a lack of effort, said head coach Jacques Lemaire, who was pleased with the team's energy level. The evenly-played contest was tied 1-1 after one, and shots in the game finished even, at 28 apiece.
"Very pleased," Lemaire said. "I felt that the guys were serious about winning the game and performing and working hard and they did it. I thought they played the best they can."
Win or lose, Parise is a constant bright spot. The Devils' leading scorer notched his team-leading 12th and 13th tallies of the season to extend his goals streak to six games (7). He owns the longest active goals streak in the League, and matched Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos for the longest this season.
Dean McAmmond was activated from injured reserve and made his Devils debut, setting up Parise's second tally. The Devils are awaiting further word on Dainius Zubrus, who blocked a Kevin Klein shot early in the second period and did not return.
"It's getting worse and worse," Lemaire said of the Devils' injury woes. "I don't know when it's going to stop. We still have to do our best."
Defenseman Tyler Eckford, who was called up from Lowell (AHL) on Tuesday made his NHL debut. Eckford's hooking penalty late in the second period paved the way for Jason Arnott to break a 1-1 tie on the power play with his second goal of the night 1:09 into the third.
"He's young," Lemaire said of the 24-year-old Eckford. "Maybe they let it go in the minor league, but not here."
The early feedback on Eckford was positive.
"He was good," Lemaire said. "He looked relaxed. He was skating well, moves the puck well. He'll be a good player. It's just going to take a little experience and knowing what he can do and what he cannot do."
Arnott put the Predators on top in the first period. The ex-Devil swatted the puck away from Brian Rolston at the right circle, and surprised Brodeur with his fourth of the year to make it 1-0 in favor of Nashville at 4:44.
The Devils allowed the first goal for the fourth straight game, and have been scored upon first in seven of their last eight contests.
New Jersey drew even on Parise's 12th. He misfired on a 2-on-1 with Zajac, but Zajac regathered for a pass back to Colin White at the left point. White got off a shot that Parise tipped in the slot, and through Rinne at 8:35.
The goal was originally credited to White, who snapped a 79-game goal drought on Saturday. It was changed to Parise late in the game.
The Devils outshot the Preds, 12-6, in the scoreless second period. Brodeur had to be sharp with about 16 seconds left, when a strong shift by Nashville's fourth line led to Marcel Goc setting up Jordin Tootoo in the slot. Brodeur flashed his left pad to protect the stalemate.
But Eckford was whistled for hooking on the play, resulting in 1:50 of carryover power-play time for Nashville in the third.
Arnott would capitalize with his fifth of the season and second of the night. He redirected J.P. Dumont's pass between his legs and inside the left post to restore the Nashville lead at 1:09 of the third.
Parise answered 3:30 later to tie the contest at 2-2. McAmmond, wearing No. 11, drove down the left side, and threw the puck to the slot, where Parise put home his 13th.
"He made a great play, he delayed," Lemaire said of McAmmond. "It looked like he was going behind the net, and then he dished the puck right in front. It was nice to see. He's playing close to how he was playing a few years back."
The Devils fell to 6-1-1 in Nashville, all-time. … Devils and Predators close out the season series on Feb. 12 in New Jersey. … Arnott, the ex-Devil who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal for New Jersey in 2000, has six goals and four assists in 10 games against his former club. … Parise, Langenbrunner and Clarkson have New Jersey's shootout winners this season. … A neutral-zone collision between two Predators gave Rolston an opening at 1:45 of the extra session. Rolston raced in for a shot from the left circle that Rinne fought off with his left pad.
1 - 0 NSH
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NSH