The New Jersey Devils lost to the New York Rangers 1-3 tonight. It’s a good thing these results don’t count. However, the performances absolutely do and many Devils should feel disappointed with how the game went. This was not a game where the Rangers just held on and tacked on an empty netter to bolster the lead. This was a game where the Rangers were seemingly in control and the Devils just struggled to get their game going. It was disappointing, to sum it up in one word.
The numbers will suggest this was an even game. Shots ended at 31-29 in favor of the Rangers. Corsi (all shooting attempts) were 55-51 in favor of the Rangers; 38-36 in favor of the Devils in even strength play. Penalties, which were frequent, resulted in five power plays for the Devils and six for the Rangers. Yet, how these numbers formed spoke to how the game went. Score effects definitely were a factor. The Rangers went up by two goals in the first period and tacked on a third goal in the third period. While the Rangers were in control of the second period; the Devils at least looked like they made an attempt at some kind of comeback in the third. They responded to being out-shot 5-13 and out-attempted 11-22 with by leading in shots and attempts in the third, 12-6 and 21-10, respectively. But by that third period, the Rangers were just maintaining the game and the Devils did not really challenge Mackenzie Skapski much.
Further, those penalties provided the path for the Rangers to win this night. Nick Lappin slashed Jimmy Vesey on a breakaway early in the game and shortly before that penalty was killed, Andy Greene was called for cross-checking. While Lappin’s call was killed; John Gilmour blasted a shot through traffic to capitalize on that second penalty. In the third period, Vojtech Mozik got whistled for cross-check on Kevin Hayes. While Rick Nash helped out New Jersey by getting a hooking minor; Andrew MacWilliam did something dumber. Vesey charged the net and MacWilliam just knocked him into the crossbar. It was a dumb hit and an easy two minutes. During the 3-on-4 situation, Brandon Pirri fired a shot off a feed from Gilmour. Scott Wedgewood thought he got it with his glove arm, but he didn’t and so the puck slid into the goal. That second one wasn’t a good goal to allow; but the calls gave the Rangers situations to capitalize on. They did so twice. So the lack of discipline and, to a degree, the penalty killing was a disappointment.
As for the one non-power play goal, well, that one was on Wedgewood. He attempted to catch a shot by Nathan Gerbe. While Wedgewood definitely got his glove on the puck, he couldn’t squeeze the mitt. The puck dropped and Pirri poached the loose puck to make it 0-2 near the halfway mark of the first period. Wedgewood definitely had to do more in preseason than Keith Kinkaid as he faced more shots and tougher competition. He also got contacted quite a few times and even had a brief bit of time where he had to play without his usual stick. However, these two soft goals surely hurt his case for the backup spot in New Jersey. They hurt the Devils’ cause tonight. That was a disappointment.
For me, the biggest disappointment was the Devils’ offense. Again, the shots and attempts were close by the end of the night. However, many of them weren’t that threatening. There were some good moments. Mike Cammalleri’s first shot of preseason - and the first of the game for either side - was a backhander right in front. There were a few odd man rushes, including one led by Steve Santini and Yohann Auvitu. Miles Wood had a turnaround shot that led to the Devils’ lone goal of the game while making his presence felt in front of the net. The power play that ended the game was functional. But it was few and far between the Rangers’ own attacks until the Rangers had a comfortable lead. Even then, there weren’t many shots from or around the slot. There weren’t many shots where Antti Raanta or Skapski had to make a difficult stop. The Devils’ first four power plays were largely wastes of time, with five skaters struggling to make a zone entry and/or turn that entry to something that would concern the defense. In contrast, the Rangers hit back on counter attacks, they preyed on the Devils’ mistakes, and they often went to the net whether with the puck or without it to help the guy with the puck. Yes, the Devils didn’t have Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, or Kyle Palmieri. The Rangers didn’t have their best defensemen or their best defensive forwards either. Take out that 6-on-4 power play at the end of the game with Wedgewood pulled and the shot and attempt counts would be solidly in Rangers’ favor. As they should; they played better.
I didn’t like writing that sentence but I don’t know what else to tell you. Pirri played very well. Vesey played well. Pavel Buchnevich played well. Kevin Klein played very well. The Rangers will have some tough decisions on who to keep. After last night’s and tonight’s game, I think the Devils will have some slightly easier decisions on who to cut. So it goes. Again, it’s a good thing these games don’t count.
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has this recap up at Blueshirt Banter.
The Best Devil?: While I didn’t notice the Zajac line much, they weren’t that bad. But I have to highlight two players as potential “best” players of the night. The first was Pavel Zacha. Good things kept happening with Zacha out there. He also drew two penalties. He even had the Devils’ best shot that didn’t go in - a snap shot from the slot that nearly beat Skapski. I liked what Zacha did. The second is Steve Santini. Auvitu received plenty of ice time - over four minutes on the power play - and was good on his own; Santini really put up the offense tonight with four shots out of seven attempts. Auvitu had only one attempt and he missed the net on it. He even carried the puck in for that 2-on-1, took a shot, and got his own rebound for another shot. Then he was able to get back into position. While he wasn’t perfect, it was encouraging to me given that my expectations of what he can do offense weren’t high. No, he didn’t score or set someone up, but he was contributing and had as many SOG’s as anyone on the Devils.
Oh, Wood looked good in limited minutes. Wood stepped in nicely for Devante Smith-Pelly tonight, who was held out due to an upper body injury per Andrew Gross at Fire & Ice. Hustling helps. Scoring a goal helps more. Between the three games, I think he’s definitely sticking around after the first set of cuts. I also think we’ll see him in New Jersey at some point in 2016-17, even as only an “energy” player. He brought some of the preferable energy over what other energy players like to do.
Two More Notes: I’ve said plenty of what I wanted to say about this game, so I’ll leave with two more notes.
First, special teams needs help and help badly. Even when the Devils maintained possession on the power play, there was no indication of what they wanted to do. It was if they were trying to figure it out as they go. While some of that may be tied to personnel, this is the time to work on systems and tactical tendencies with certain people. I didn’t see any of that in the three games I’ve seen. That has to be developed and fast as the second week of preseason comes. The penalty killing has been more successful; but the wedge-plus-one wasn’t so strong tonight. The players didn’t get into it as much. The lack of pressure up to Gilmour helped give him the space for his strike although it was a great shot. I think that’s more easily fixed; the larger issue would be to stop taking a lot of penalties. With cuts coming soon, the Devils may be able to work on it more with the personnel they intend to use.
Second, discipline! The Devils took four cross-checking penalties tonight. The last one was an offensive zone call by Pietila and it turned out to be costly. Greene’s was also costly in that the Devils had an extended PK without their most experienced defender. MacWilliam had the most dangerous one and it helped put the Devils in a hole. What aggravates me about them is that three of them were in the third period. Did the players think the refs were going to ignore those after calling a few penalties on both sides earlier in the game? Maybe Mozik’s was a bit weak, but the others were easy ones for the refs. As were the two non-cross-checking penalties. I know it’s preseason but the rules didn’t change over the summer. I want the Devils to be smarter so they can stop shooting themselves in the foot.
Your Take: I thought the Devils put in a disappointing effort tonight. What did you think of their 1-3 loss to the Rangers? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight? Who did or did not help their cause ahead of the impending first set of cuts? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter (@AAtJerseyBlog) and in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.