Tonight's opponent is not just Our Hated Rivals but also the hottest team in hockey with seven straight wins. The New Jersey Devils just fired Peter DeBoer during the Christmas break and the replacement is a duo of Scott Stevens and Adam Oates with Lou behind the bench for a short term. I don't think expectations were high. Mine weren't. Tonight's performance justified it as the Rangers cruised to hand the Devils a 1-3 loss.
The hero of night for the opposition was Derek Stepan. He forced an ugly turnover from Travis Zajac on a power play, which gave him a breakaway. Cory Schneider pokechecked his way into no man's land and Stepan was able to beat him with ease. Stepan converted a power play when he re-directed a hard shot from distance by Martin St. Louis; an unstoppable deflection. Stepan iced the game when he launched a puck from the neutral zone into the empty net. While he wasn't as dominant in possession like, say, Carl Hagelin, his production could not be stopped. Literally - all three of his shots on net were goals.
While Stepan wasn't just pinning the Devils back, he was constantly in motion and usually moved with a purpose. He hustled back strong on defense, he was smart in going forward, and he forced some errors. He was representative of the Rangers' effort tonight. That was a big reason why the Devils looked so poor despite the close score. When the Devils turned the puck over, the Rangers turned it into something. If not forcing a tough save by Cory Schneider, then forcing him to react and keeping the Devils skaters back. When the Devils tried to go forward, the Rangers backchecked well enough to deny their many dump-ins and cut off their first passes to end their attacks before they even attacked. Whereas the Devils failed to move the puck effectively, the Rangers were better in response. As with many games from the last two months or so, the Rangers simply played better than the Devils. The score was close, but the game was not.
I know it's not fair to pin the game on the coaches. They haven't even had a practice with the team. So I won't. But anyone who expected better with two newish voices and one old voice behind the bench were disappointed. There will be much work to have to be done to get this team to be better. Even if they're not going to be that good, it can surely get better, right? Because tonight showed that, yet again.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice Log | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts
The Opposition Opinion: From Blueshirt Banter, here's the recap from Bryan Winters.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are the highlights to tonight's game:
The Best Devil was the Goalie: The first goal he gave up was bad, but that aside, Cory Schneider prevented this from being a blowout. Once again, he was the best Devil of the night. A toe here, a glove there, and many stops were off situations where the skaters looked like pylons and the Rangers just did what they wanted with the puck. The Rangers could have had more than 28 shots on 52 attempts; Schneider did what he could to ensure that the game was still a game on the scoreboard. Yet again, the support he got was lacking.
I will also say the team was bailed out by some failed execution by the Rangers. On a number of their odd man rushes, their passes betrayed them. There were a few Devils turnovers that could have gone far worse had the puck not handcuff a Ranger or someone took an extra step. That being said, Schneider did as well as one could reasonably expected. Except on that Stepan breakaway. Again, that was bad.
Confidence!: Adam Larsson and Eric Gelinas have to play and, boy, did they play tonight! Gelinas did set up the Devils' lone goal. Well, Tuomo Ruutu set it up with a good read and entry through the neutral zone. Gelinas' pass to Steve Bernier was very good. It probably built up his confidence or somesuch. Likewise when he drilled a shot off the post during a power play in the second period.
All of the giveaways, how he got his ankles metaphorically broken by John Moore, and how slow to react he was in his own end of the rink probably demolished it. His poor confidence. Or maybe he's not that good of a defenseman now and he needs a lot more work than just kind words and an assurance he'll get minutes in spite of his play. That's not easy, though. We'll see if there's any movement on that.
Larsson, on the other hand, doesn't have the benefit of contributing to a scoring play tonight. While he wasn't as noticeably bad, he had some turnovers that made him look worse than #22 at times. He wasn't so effective. I do realize he's still trying to get back into form. He did miss most of the month due to the mumps. That said, #5 didn't impress either. He'll need additional attention to the particulars of his game should he actually improve. Confidence alone isn't going to do it.
That all said, the defensive woes weren't just on those two. Andy Greene didn't have a strong night and Peter Harrold played like what most people think of Peter Harrold. Throw in some bad backchecking from the forwards and it's not a surprise that the team was getting out-shot by a significant margin while losing.
Special Teams Rework: Speaking of Harrold, he was actually featured on the power play. As was Travis Zajac at the point. As was Stephen Gionta and not at the end of power plays to continue his shift. The Devils had four man advantages, hit one post, didn't really threaten except for the last one, put up three shots, and conceded a goal. In a game where the Rangers were clearly in better shape at even strength from the second period onward, special teams could have made the difference. They did - for the Rangers. I'm all for new ideas on the power play, but those first three in the beginning of this paragraph aren't ones to continue.
I didn't think penalty kill was all that bad, PPGA aside. I was more concerned that they were giving up shots off the rush, which is what happens when things are really broken down. Still, the one goal against was a deflection in front and not really a failure by any one player or by formation. If you want to fault someone for that, fault Jordin Tootoo for a retaliatory foul after getting hit legally hard by Tanner Glass. The calls the Devils took weren't smart ones, but again, the deflection was the only damage from it. I've seen worse.
Returns: Both Jacob Josefson and Dainius Zubrus returned to action. Josefson didn't do much except take a silly holding call in front of a referee on defense. Zubrus played a lot but managed to not register a single shooting attempt. He did put up a rebound early in the game high, but the scorer felt otherwise. Both could have been - and will be? - better in future games.
One Line Driving, But This Man Led in Shots And That's a Problem: The one unit that had some kind of consistent offense was the one that included Scott Gomez and Jaromir Jagr. Adam Henrique was mostly with them, though Zubrus had a fine few shifts with them. Still, as much as they pushed and drew calls (the last two power plays for the Devils), they didn't register much on Henrik Lundqvist. The trio combined for four shots out of eight attempts. They came mighty close in the third period to tying up the game, only to be thwarted by blocks from Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello. Still, that's not a lot from a unit expected to push the play forward.
In contrast, the leading shooter for the Devils tonight was Jordin Tootoo. Seriously, he had three shots on net. They weren't bad shots to take and the fourth line arguably had the first really strong shift for the Devils in the third period. The fact that Tootoo was the leading shooter speaks to the Devils' lackluster offensive performance. Despite being down for most of the game, they were still out-shot 20-28 and out-attempted 41-52. The second period did feature the goal but Bernier's strike was one of only five shots on net and one of seven attempts. By contrast, the Rangers put up 13 shots out of 21 attempts. They controlled that period with the familiar issue of conceding possession too easily hurting the Devils. While attempts were more even in the third, they often didn't lead to shots as the Devils got seven and the Rangers got five, including the ENG. That means little offense was generated across the board, including players expected to do more regularly. That only adds to the dulling pain of watching this team this season. Good luck to the new coaching staff on how to address that.
The Hottest Stayed the Hottest: Eight wins in a row for the Rangers. As much as I'd like to write a dig at them, I can't ignore how impressive that is. So I won't.
Your Take: The Devils got outplayed and deserved to lose this one, regardless of the opponent, regardless of the rivalry, regardless of the situation. The new co-coaches have their work cut out for them. What do you take out of a game like this? Does it change your expectations on what the team can do in 2015? Was there someone on the Devils not named Schneider who was good tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.