Tonight, the New Jersey Devils lost 3-4 in overtime to Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. The scoring was bookended by the victors. The deplorable opponents struck for two goals, the Devils put them on some knowledge for three in a row, but the dastardly Dolanites found a relatively late equalizer in the third period and the overtime winner.
If I seem bitter, then it’s because I am to a degree. These are Our Hated Rivals. I can’t ever like a game where my favorite team does not beat a team I hate. I agree with Mike’s recent post and the others here and elsewhere that point to 2016-17 being another lost season. I’ve looked at the stats enough to know this team might as well be spelled DeviLs for the next six weeks or so. I understand the calls for tanking, selling, and so forth will only increase over the next few days. I realize that the Devils are currently a Bad Team and that losing may not be the worst case scenario for them. I get that. But if nothing else - beat the Rangers. At least give me that; some victories over a rival, please. That would dull what looks to me to be inevitable pain from most of the rest of the regular season schedule.
It looked like tonight would be that night. The Devils put up a big comeback to take a 3-2 lead in the third. It was exciting, entertaining, enjoyable, and energizing. I was in a good mood after Kyle Palmieri re-directed a rocket of a shot by Andy Greene to the top corner. (And even more when Alain Vigneault threw away a timeout challenging it.) The Rangers fans at the Rock were quiet throughout most of the third period, realizing that their PDO-darlings may actually lose to the Devils. But it all went awry. A moving screen by Ben Lovejoy during Adam Clendening’s shot provided the game-tying goal. Overtime ended with Mika Zibanejad faking a shot and then sliding a wrister through Cory Schneider’s legs. Whatever good will, good tides, and good times generated by those three goals was undercut. At a minimum, I have to describe this as a let down even taking New Jersey’s situation into account.
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 Charts | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has this recap at Blueshirt Banter.
As Much As I Felt Let Down by This Loss...It Wasn’t All Bad: However, my bitterness is not completely reality-based. As with the last Devils-Rangers game, there were plenty of positives to take from the Devils performance. Allow me to go through a number of them.
The General Offensive Production: Offensively, the team showed up and more than hung with a Rangers squad loaded with talent in a high-event game. The Rock’s shot counter was off to start the game, but it appeared and tallied up a game where shots ended 40-38. Not every shot by the Devils or Rangers was particularly great, but they were firing away in a mostly up-and-down affair. Total attempts were similarly close: 60-58 in favor of the visitors. It is more common that the Devils are playing games with far fewer shooting attempts for both sides. That they were able to keep up with the up-tempo pace of the game and make Antti Raanta work for his money is a plus. Beating him thrice was a plus too since for half of the game, he looked indomitable. That faded after Adam Henrique beat him with a wraparound late in the second and Raanta failed to stop a shot by Kyle Palmieri within the first minute of the third. The rocket of a shot by Andy Greene that Palmieri tipped for a quick power play goal, well, that was a deflection and can hardly be blamed on the goalie. There were plenty of situations where he had to come up big and/or lucky, all the way to Palmieri’s breakaway in overtime. But this was not like several Devils games where the concept of attacking hockey seemed lost on them. There were some stretches of that tonight - most of the second period - but this was not the norm as it has been in other games.
The Goaltending: While the last goal allowed was a bad one to allow, I really liked how Cory Schneider played tonight. He hasn’t been the problem for this team in this calendar year so far; it’s been more or less the guys in front of him. This was the case in regulation. The 5-on-5 shooting attempt heat map at Natural Stat Trick shows that the Devils did a poor job defending the slot. As much as they went back and forth in the third period, there were issues with lateral passes in their own zone. Issues in that the Rangers were able to make them and the Devils failed to deny as many as they could. Too many times, the skaters decided to play goalie themselves and/or follow the puck - which allowed the Rangers to be willing, ready, and able to pounce on loose pucks or find teammates on the flank. That last point was apparent on the second and third goals against Schneider. The second goal against was on the rush where the focus was on Jesper Fast but not on Oscar Lindberg. Fast faked his shot and made a pass to Lindberg for a shot no non-ESP-having goalie was going to stop. I would praise it, but you know, it was by a Ranger. The third goal against came after a stupid icing by the Devils, where upon there was a puck battle along the boards after the faceoff, the Devils lost said battle, and all five Devils focused their attention on Chris Kreider - who passed the puck to Clendening, who fired said puck just as Lovejoy came out in front of Schneider. The first goal against was a long shot deflected in by Kreider. My point: Schneider had a lot of junk, shooting attempts, and shots to deal with. He did admirably in regulation. Shame that his strong performance ended with something so soft.
Discipline & Special Teams: Discipline and special teams were also pluses in this one. The energy both in the stands and on the rink was palatable. Yet, the game never got out of control on the ice. There weren’t that many scrums, there were no fists thrown, and yet everyone skated and put out an effort befitting of a rivalry game. The referees let the players play and the Devils did not give them much of anything to make them think otherwise. Devante Smith-Pelly’s tripping call was legit and as much as the Devils survived that penalty kill - thanks mostly to Schneider - that was it for penalties. Kreider cleared a puck over the glass and the Devils made him pay for it right away. The other power play wasn’t bad, despite conceding a shorthanded chance to Kevin Hayes. In total, the Devils kept their cool even when the score was against them, the refs weren’t particularly picky nor made to change their mind, and the Devils were a plus one amid their special teams work. I see those as positives.
Notable Devils: There were a number of Devils skaters I thought played well in the game. Tonight showed how skilled Taylor Hall really can be. While he only had two shots, when he was able to go forward, he was noticeably more decisive than most of the other skaters. He set the table, so to speak, for Palmieri and Travis Zajac tonight. The line did not do so well in the run of play, but when they were attacking, Hall was frequently involved. I really liked how Beau Bennett performed. Yes, his lack of production is a downer. But it was clear to me tonight why he’s a positive possession player on a team filled with negative ones. He’s good at making himself available for passes and he makes plays within his skillset and situation. Tonight, it paid dividends as he ended up with five shots and nine shooting attempts. Palmieri was rough in his own end, but his two goals, I think, redeem him. Henrique was much better in terms of possession and defense and his goal was good; I liked him more as the game went on. Lastly among the players, I will give credit where its due and note that Kyle Quincey had a very good game overall. He was very active on offense with five shots on net and he more than held his own on defense tonight. I think he was picked on the Lindberg goal, too.
The Mindset: Lastly, there is something to be said about the fact that there was a comeback at all. Much of that second period performance was pretty lame. The Devils seemingly forgot how transition hockey and passing the puck was supposed to work. The Rangers could (and did!) sit in a trap and wait for the eventual missed pass, turned-over puck, and/or iced puck before striking. It made me think that this was going to be a rather pride-less performance. Which would be terrible given the opponent. The Devils finally figured it out late in the period and Henrique made his wraparound count to put the Devils on the board. Instead of skating through a fog or in fear of the opponent, the Devils took the initiative and were rewarded for it. While they did not score a fourth goal, they pushed for it and came close several times. Even after Clendening’s goal in the third period, the Devils were battling for loose pucks, trying to catch the Rangers in odd-man situations, and throwing pucks towards the middle in the hopes of something. This wasn’t a team that just went up 3-2 and chilled. Or a team that fell apart and scraped by to overtime after it went 3-3. I can and do appreciate this mindset from the performance; it contributed (in a good way) to what the team and I hope to see it in future games, if only to make the games watchable.
A Quick Summary of What Went Wrong: As bad as giving up two goals in the first period was, the Devils were making an effort then to score. Most of the second period was bad. As much as I appreciate the mindset of how the team came out in the third, where was in the second period? Maybe it was just waiting for some kind of spark; but good thing Schneider was not beaten a third time before said spark happened. What wasn’t good was that the Devils made that a challenge from failed zone exits to a lack of offense to even odd failures like Hall whiffing on a pass which led to a glorious chance for Hayes - and a more glorious save by #35.
Defense in general was rather bad if only for the amount of shots allowed and how many attempts came from the slot. Schneider really had to be great tonight given how not-great the defensive zone coverage was for most of the game. How the skaters were positioned and looking mostly at the puck carrier and not their assignments during the second and third goals against points to coaching as a potential root cause of those issues.
While I praise the offense in general, there could have been more attempts within dangerous areas. The Devils seemingly did a better job of this in the third period and the first six minutes of the game were certainly not limited to the perimeters of the rink. That said, I think some of those 38 shots were pretty easy for Raanta and the shooter should have deferred in the hopes of finding a more advantageous shot. I know, what’s done is done. But it’s something to strive for.
While there were Devils who had good games, there were Devils who had bad games. Miles Wood remains someone that I wish the coaches had a smarter plan for. Or at least someone who can teach him how to play defense. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jacob Josefson and Stefan Noesen; I thought they were largely ineffectual. Zajac is normally a reliable hand, but he seemed off tonight. Palmieri on defense was also off, but hey, he scored two goals. On defense, Ben Lovejoy was just showcasing why he’s a one-way player - and unfortunately that one way is towards New Jersey’s net. Screening Schneider was bad. He and Greene really had issues with the likes of Zibanejad, J.T. Miller, Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello (who had six shots). I wish Severson would rejoin Greene because I don’t think Greene-Lovejoy has been so successful. Of course, I have to look into that to see if that’s true.
Lastly, correct me if I’m wrong, but was there another bench issue in overtime? Was Damon Severson slow to get on the ice in 3-on-3? This may be reaching, but he wasn’t that far behind Zibanejad. A half-second sooner and perhaps Severson gets in his way enough to deny him a clean shot.
One Last Thought: I hate the Rangers. May they continue to golf in May.
Your Take: The Devils lost in overtime to Our Hated Rivals. While I’m hoping for a better result on March 21, I want to know what you thought of the game. What did you notice during the game? Who was good and/or bad in your eyes? What could have the Devils done differently that could have led them to a win over Our Hated Rivals? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone here at AAtJ who filled in for me while I was out for most of the month. Thanks to Alex for previewing this game. Thanks to all of you for commenting, following @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter, and for reading.