With 3.5 seconds left to play in the game, Filip Chytil slid in a shot from a cross-slot feed by Mats Zuccarello to beat Mackenzie Blackwood for a power play goal in overtime. The New Jersey Devils lost with a final score of 3-4, favoring Our Hated Rivals - the New York Rangers. Thankfully, this is preseason so the result does not matter much. Moreover, this was not at all a bad game by the Devils.
As this was the second preseason game of the season, the roster was mostly filled with Devils who did not play on Monday in the 4-1 win against Washington. So no Taylor Hall, no Kyle Palmieri, no Marcus Johansson, no Stefan Noesen, no Joseph Blandisi, no Nico Hischier, no Mirco Mueller, and so forth. The only players who made their second appearance in this preseason were Damon Severson, Yaroslav Dablenko, Jimmy Hayes, and Nick Lappin. While this squad did feature a half-game from Cory Schneider with Adam Henrique and Andy Greene, this was closer to a B-squad. And they came back in the game to force overtime and took a Rangers team that wasn’t exactly weak on their end to nearly 65 minutes. In that sense, I am not too unhappy about that.
In a preseason categorized by its whistle frequency, the Devils took more than what would be an acceptable amount of penalties. And the Rangers didn’t wipe any out with faceoff violations. The Devils’ had nine penalty kills lasting a total of 15:36. Worse, the Devils paid the price for their crimes as they conceded one power play goal in regulation to Kevin Hayes on top of Chytil’s game winner in overtime. The Rangers took plenty of calls as well, including three faceoff violations. But despite seven power plays and two 5-on-3 situations lasting over 50 seconds each, the Devils put up just ten shots. At least the power play scored tonight; Brian Gibbons scored on a sweet shot in the slot thanks to a sweeter feed by Drew Stafford. Clearly, special teams does need some work. With another preseason game tomorrow, practice time seems few and far between to sort out who should be on a power play and penalty kill, much less how they should play those situations.
All the same, the Devils and the Rangers did play a fairly even game from a shots and shot-attempt perspective. Shots ended 29-29 in all situations and 15-15 in 5-on-5 situations per Natural Stat Trick. Attempts were 52-48 in favor of the Rangers in all situations and 26-24 in 5-on-5 play. The myriad of penalties plus overtime limited the amount of 5-on-5 play, but each team had their good and bad shifts. Nobody really got lit up except for perhaps the veteran goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist conceded two goals and Schneider was beaten three times, the last being a double-deflection he wasn’t going to stop right past the halfway mark of the game. The newer guys, Blackwood and Alexandar Georgiev, were only beaten once. That perhaps was a surprise.
But the big positive to takeaway from this one was that the Devils managed to battle back in this game. Despite conceding a PPG for the first goal, it took a 3-on-4 in overtime with seconds left for another one to be allowed. Despite Chris Kreider making Ben Lovejoy look slow to make it 1-2 after the Devils equalized, the Devils found a way to make it 2-2. Despite two literal bad bounces giving David Desharnais a score to make it 2-3, the Devils found an equalizer in the third when Damon Severson took a long wrist shot and Jimmy Hayes got a touch on it which helped make it sneak through. The Devils maintained that score-line, came close to breaking it open, came close to blowing it, and only ultimately fell at the end. A softer team probably doesn’t do any of this. That this Devils roster did it takes some of the bitterness that would come from a loss to Our Hated Rivals. So does the fact that this is just the second game in preseason, a series of exhibition games.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Blueshirt Banter for a recap of tonight’s game if you want the opposition’s opinion.
Who Did Rather Well: I liked Drew Stafford tonight. Despite the penalties, which were costly. For a debut game, I got a sense of why he was signed instead of brought in on a try-out deal. His peaks were when he set up the Devils’ first two goals. His pass to Pavel Zacha, who one-touched it in mid-air past Lundqvist, was perfect. His pass to Gibbons for the power play goal was excellent. Stafford skated well and he was a big reason why Zacha had six shots on net tonight. His only negatives were that he did not register a shot on net and he took two costly minor penalties which led to power play goals. The big one was when he hooked a streaking Adam Tambellini in overtime. That hook may have stopped Tambellini from hammering in a one timer, but the call ultimately doomed the Devils. Still, I am going to look at this as a positive game for him.
Speaking of positive, hello Pavel Zacha. He really showed up to make a point or two on the ice. This Zacha was aggressive and took plenty of offensive initiative. His one goal was certainly fortunate. Batting a puck in mid-air on Lundqvist’s doorstep does require fortune. But five other shots on net on top of playing in all situations and winning his match-up in 5-on-5 is just great. I want to see more of this Zacha in preseason and in the regular season.
While Zacha had a goal and Stafford had assists, I thought Adam Henrique had a better game than some may think. He was the Devils’ top faceoff man with thirteen wins out of nineteen and he came out well with the match-ups he did have. As one of the few veterans on tonight’s roster who will play a significant role in 2017-18, he had a good night in terms of being responsible and eating up plenty of tough draws (six on defense, ten in neutral zone). I wish he did more offensively; it would have been more apparent that he did well.
On defense, Damon Severson was a standout. If the power play had an issue, it wasn’t with #28 at the point. Defensively, he was quite good and he drove plenty of the play forward in 5-on-5. While Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy played a massive amount on the penalty kill (at least 7:30 on it), Greene and Severson were together a lot in 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick and it was a workable pairing. I hope that continues throughout preseason and into the regular season.
I liked both goaltenders. I think Cory Schneider maybe had a chance at Kreider’s goal, but he was in a one-on-one situation thanks to Kreider torching Lovejoy. The first goal against was created in part by Dyblenko going to the middle in a 3-on-2 and giving Kevin Hayes a clear lane to the net - who then scored. The third goal against was a double deflection that ended with the shaft of Desharnais’ stick knocking it in on his flank. The point: these weren’t soft goals allowed. And in between them, Schneider made plenty of strong saves - including two post-to-post robberies. Blackwood struggled early on; fumbling pucks that I thought he could have held onto. But he impressed me with his size and athleticism. He made two point-blank stops on Rangers in the slot in the third period in part of both. He was able to make a post-to-post save himself in the third. When Brady Skeji picked up a loose puck and it seemed Blackwood and Victor Loov were unaware, Blackwood got a pad in behind Michael McLeod’s leg for a stunning stop in OT. If Blackwood gets sharper on his mechanics and his stance, then he could be a real force in net. That’s what I took away from this one. Despite the score, I was pleased with both goalies.
The most surprising performance in a good way came from Jimmy Hayes. He was rightfully criticized on Monday with being responsible for four penalties and contributing little more than that. Tonight, Hayes tipped in Severson’s shot, made the pass to Stafford that led to Gibbons’ PPG, and took four shots on net (and nearly stuffed one of those in after his tip-in goal thanks to an out-of-nowhere brilliant pass by Miles Wood). Those are all very good contributions. What’s most impressive: he took no penalties tonight. That’s a big improvement for the big winger; it’s grand that he responded so well after a poor night.
Who Did Not Do Well: Take a bow (or a penalty), Victor Loov. He took two silly minor penalties, he showed that he can be as mobile as Ben Lovejoy, and he took one (1) shot all game. Knowing that he did not appear in New Jersey last season, I had a feeling he did not have a lot to offer. I know it now. What exacerbated his night was that his most common partner in 5-on-5 play was Lovejoy. Who also was beaten for his lack of speed for a goal against on top of contributing very little going forward. At least he did not take a penalty.
Up front, I wanted to see more out of Blake Speers. That players like Austin Cangelosi and Ben Thomson did little doesn’t bother me much. They were on the fourth line. Provided they did not hurt the overall cause too much (Cangelosi took the team’s first penalty tonight, but other than that, nothing), that’s OK. I expected more out of Speers, who made the New Jersey roster right out of camp. That the coaches gave him more than seven minutes of shorthanded ice time, I think someone thinks well enough of his defensive game. But offense? Speers provided little for it. While he got to use some of his speed in spots, I wanted to see him get forward more often. Given that he was used more and in a more frequent role alongside Michael McLeod, who had some flashes of goodness, I had higher hopes. It didn’t happen tonight. Maybe in his next appearance.
Ultimately, I can’t point out too many others who had a poor night. That speaks to how the team performance was not so bad.
What Of McLeod?: McLeod definitely has good hands, he can be very quick on the ice, and the Devils used him in all three situations to give him some good ice time. Like Speers, I wanted to see more on offense from him. Unlike Speers, I liked some of McLeod’s decisions on the puck and he was a bit better in the run of play. I want to see more of McLeod in the coming games. Before this game, it would be premature to say whether he should hang in the NHL like Zacha did last season or whether he should go back and (hopefully) dominate the OHL. It is still premature after this game in my view.
Penalty Tendencies: The emphasis for this preseason is on faceoff violations and slashing. There were four faceoff violations total tonight. The Rangers were tagged for three and the Devils were hit for it once. I thought Nick Lappin got a raw deal for his violation. The rule is that he has to be set and not cross the lines. He wasn’t set. He was still moving and about to set up. Yet, he was still called for it at the dot. Still, the Devils were on the right side of this one. As for slashes, the Devils took two (Stafford and Loov) to the Rangers’ one (Kevin Hayes). They were not on the right side of that one. That only a third of the Devils’ penalties were about these calls of emphasis suggests that discipline could have been much better. They were not exactly subtle moves that the refs called.
A Final Thought: As disappointed as I was to see the Devils not make the most of two 5-on-3 situations of considerable length, I was happy to not see their “M” formation. The Devils did not stick two forwards on the goal line to take them out of the play. I did not like that at all last season and I believe it hindered them then. I did not see that tonight; I’m calling that a plus for the power play. There is plenty more to work on. With the way the refs have been so far, they’ll have the opportunities.
Your Take: The Devils fell in overtime 3-4 to Our Hated Rivals in preseason. It is preseason so I’m not going to get worked up over it, but that’s just me. What do you think about the game? Who do you think did and did not do well for the Devils tonight? What do you want the Devils to work on in future games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter with @AATJerseyBlog and in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.