Tonight, the New Jersey Devils played their best game of hockey since their last win. That’s not a nothing statement, it’s been almost two weeks since their last win. The Devils managed to hold their opponent to fewer than three goals in regulation for only the second time since November 15 (sixteen games). The Devils managed to out-shoot their opponents for the first time in quite some time, 31-27. The Devils didn’t just survive the second period, which has been twenty minutes of nightmares for this team in this season; they went up 1-0 in it. The Devils got waxed by the same opponent last week and took them to the limit tonight. There’s plenty to be pleased with. But they did not win. They lost to the New York Rangers in a shootout for an official 2-3 final score.
I get it. The Devils lost again to the Rangers, also known as Our Hated Rivals. The Devils lost their sixth straight game. The Devils conceded a one-goal lead with 1:14 left to play, which led to overtime. The Devils failed to succeed in overtime. And the shootout went bad. They were closer to getting that elusive win than they were last week. They were closer than they were in Ottawa on Saturday. But close isn’t enough to win. Nobody’s happy. I understand.
Let’s go through the shootout first. In the regular portion of the shootout, the Rangers sent out Mats Zuccarello, Jimmy Vesey, and Derek Stepan. They got a goal, a save, and a post, respectively. The Devils sent out P.A. Parenteau, Taylor Hall, and Michael Cammalleri. They were stopped, stopped, and successful. So it went to sudden death: Kevin Hayes scored and the Devils sent out Damon Severson. Severson did not even get a shot off, Henrik Lundqvist poked the puck away. I was just as baffled as you probably were when #28 appeared to take the puck. Maybe Severson did well on shootouts in practice and Hynes figured he was deserving of a shot. (I want to believe this is the reason.) Maybe head coach John Hynes over-thought it and thought to fool the Rangers by sending out someone with exactly one attempt in his career. Maybe there was something else. I will agree that I would have preferred someone else like Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, or even a new guy like Miles Wood. It didn’t work. And with that leading to six straight losses, I understand why this was immediately and will be criticized.
As for the equalizer. It is the first late equalizer the Devils conceded since November 26 in Pittsburgh. That was a shot off a loose puck amid traffic by arguably the best player in the world. Tonight, it was another extra-skater situation. The Devils iced the puck, lost the faceoff, and Derek Stepan re-directed a pass from the right circle for the goal. It was a near-perfect re-direction. There was nothing the Devils could have done about that particular play other than A) winning the faceoff or B) not icing it at that moment. It’s a heartbreaker and the result of all of the swarming the Rangers were doing.
But let not these moments ignore the reality of what the Devils did tonight. They started to and maintained the run of play for the most part after about five minutes into the game and all of the way until they scored their second goal. It took the Rangers to go down 2-1 before “turning it up.” And the Devils were able to keep the Rangers somewhat honest with offense. Although a couple of 2-on-1 rushes led by Taylor Hall were left a lot to be desired then and in retrospect. Still, it wasn’t eight minutes of the Devils getting pinned back until the equalizer. When the game was in overtime, the Devils carried more of the play, they did not panic without the puck, and they created more opportunities to score.
There are plenty of positives. If you wanted better goaltending, then you got that from Cory Schneider tonight. He was great. If you wanted adjustments in tactics, then you got that after a number of odd man rushes and counter-attacks caught the Devils in danger. The pinches became less common as a result. If you wanted discipline, then you even have that with two penalties taken compared to the Rangers’ four. If you wanted improved play from the bottom six, then you got that. If you wanted Miles Wood to make an impact, then you got that. If you wanted Jon Merrill not to be a waste, then you even got that tonight. Yet, it all got the Devils close to a win, close to beating the Rangers who embarrassed them on the same rink a week ago, close to taking that terrible losing streak and throwing it in the trash. It was not enough.
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 Shift Chart | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Blueshirt Banter probably has one.
That No Good Power Play: This may seem odd to read as Parenteau scored a power play goal to open the game’s scoring in the second period. But the Devils power play was not good. Their first one yielded not one, not two, but three shorthanded scoring chances. Their second power play allowed only one shorthanded scoring chance, a 2-on-1 right after New York won the faceoff. Their fourth power play featured more dump-ins, including a breakaway off one, than functional offense. The Devils only out-shot the Rangers 7-5 on their power plays. Seven shots isn’t bad, but it hurts when big chances were going the other way.
The goal itself was fortunate. Kyle Palmieri took a shot, Lundqvist stopped it, and Wood and Parenteau crashed the net. Parenteau went to put the loose puck through and the puck hit the post. How the puck went in was because Lundqvist put it over the line with his own arm, trying to find it. It was a good break off a good play. But there weren’t enough good plays and it was Schneider who made sure the power play didn’t go even or negative in goal differential.
Making a Statement: On Saturday, Hynes and the staff decided playing Luke Gazdic in a hockey game was important and Beau Bennett and Parenteau were scratched along with Pavel Zacha. The coaches did the right thing tonight by scratching Gazdic and Devante Smith-Pelly so they could play. Zacha re-entered as Jacob Josefson, who didn’t have a good night on Saturday, was out with an upper body injury. So the Devils had twelve NHL forwards and additional skill compared to the game in Ottawa. Hynes put Zacha, Bennett, and Parenteau together on a line. And it worked. Parenteau and Bennett put in a lot of hard work. Zacha was much more active. While the unit did not play a lot, they were doing well in the run of play. They were a factor when the other lines were on the bench. I’d like to see that line together for the next few games, I’d like to see where it goes.
By the way, the fourth line of Nick Lappin, Vernon Fiddler, and Sergey Kalinin were re-united. And they were better than Fiddler, Kalinin, and Gazdic was on Saturday. I do not think that is a coincidence.
More than Speed: Miles Wood had himself a game tonight. Six shots on net. He was receiving shifts in overtime. He was out-attempted in 5-on-5 play, but he out-shot the competition. Yes, he had moments where his speed gave him opportunities other players just don’t have. For example, Wood caught a Ranger changing, so he just blazed in for a breakaway and tried to beat Lundqvist with a backhander. But Wood has shown more cohesiveness with Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri for other shots. For example, Henrique chased a dump-in from Palmieri, won the puck from Dan Girardi, and Wood just got to the slot. Wood could have blazed in and joined Henrique behind the net. Instead, Wood was in position to get the pass and blasted a one-timer past Lundqvist, which made it 2-1. This is a player who is still in his first season of pro hockey and he’s fitting in on this top six. He’s more than just a guy who’s skating and as he continues to play, he’ll continue to make more impacts like he did tonight.
Come on, Man: Taylor Hall had five shots on net and plenty of moves to make the Rangers concerned. He had a good game. But he led a number of two on ones where he should’ve shot it instead of forcing a pass across that didn’t make it. Yes, a completed pass would’ve forced Lundqvist to move and could have led to a goal. But I would want Hall to take those shots. Especially since they were in the third and the Rangers could (and did) quickly counter-attacked.
The Pairing Change, Game 2: Damon Severson had himself a fine game, shootout attempt aside, along with Jon Merrill. Ben Lovejoy and Andy Greene were OK and Lovejoy was not a wreck in the case of a forecheck. They did get lost amid a cycle that led to Chris Kreider scoring the first goal for the Rangers. Lovejoy followed the play to the corner, but Greene did not go to Kreider. So Kreider was open for a pass from Zuccarello to one-time it point-blank on Schneider’s doorstep. That error aside, it wasn’t a poor performance. So I think we’ll see 6-12 and 7-28 for another game. Although I still would want Auvitu back for Merrill.
If there’s an issue with the defensive performance, then I would say it was with their zone exits. There were numerous shifts where a Devil would knock a puck away from a Ranger, but they wouldn’t be able to make that puck leave the zone. Earlier in the game, the Rangers also had issues handling the puck so it wasn’t that big of a deal. With the score being 2-1 in the third period, though, the Rangers were more aggressive and were keeping those pucks in play. It added to the pressure the Devils were already soaking up. And when the clearances are icings, well, they can be costly. As with the second equalizer tonight.
Slump Busted?: I’m sure the win would have been preferred, but Schneider was great tonight. He made Hynes look smart with the decision to start him tonight. I’m hoping how he did will lead to better performances from him.
The Dangerous Rangers: J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, and Henrik Lundqvist were the best Rangers tonight. The five skaters were all good in the run of play and they each had moments where they just broke through the Devils and were close to scoring. Nash himself had three or four power moves to the net where he just missed the net. Somehow, he only played one shift in OT. Hayes and Miller had big moments where I thought they would break through for a goal. (And Miller impressed me by taking a hooking penalty as part of a Rangers 4-on-2 rush.) Kreider did get a goal, Zuccarello set up said goal, and Lundqvist had a strong game in net too.
Notice I didn’t include any defensemen on their side. I wasn’t impressed by any of them.
One Last Thought: With the performances in Ottawa and tonight, the Devils should be getting a win soon, right? Right? RIGHT?
Your Take: The Devils did as well as they could and yet lost their last six and lost again to Our Hated Rivals. What’s your take on this game? What could have gone better but did not? What about the Devils did you like the most from their performance? Who was good or bad in your eyes? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
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