Tonight was a preseason game, but you would not have known that given the actions on the ice between the New Jersey Devils and Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. It may have been September 23, but tonight’s game would have fit right in under the definition of a rivalry matchup. There was a real hate on the ice, a real despisement between the two squads. You had more than the usual post-whistle scrums. There were two instances of a Ranger going beyond the proverbial line for physical play and a Devil subsequently going right after them for it. There was a kind of “jump” in some players’ as they battled to make plays. It helped that a more full arena was divided between the glorious red and the ignominious blue to add to the atmosphere. This was a preseason game that was a real rivalry matchup. I am happy to say that the Devils won it, 2-1.
I am also happy to say that the Devils played a good game in this one. Compared to their previous game against the Rangers on Wednesday, they faced a Rangers team with more talent in the lineup. The blueline included Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden to join Marc Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk. Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, and Mika Zibanejad joined Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider. Henrik Lundqvist played two periods instead of just one and a half. The Devils, who iced a lineup more similar to that Wednesday crew, did more against the Rangers in this victory.
While they only scored twice, they put up 33 shots on net and out-shot the Rangers in each period. The Devils kept the Rangers to just 18 shots, including only five in a close third period. The Devils were ahead in shooting attempts in 5-on-5, 24-21, and all-situations, 46-36. The Devils’ penalty kill was in excellent form as they limited the Rangers to just four shots on net in six power play situations lasting 11:40. Even the Devils’ power play, which displayed issues again, out-shot them with nine shots in seven situations lasting 11:24. The Rangers needed a play to work out right for them until the end. The Devils made sure it did not happen. Then the Rangers did it to themselves when they got caught with a handpass on offense, and followed that up with a (funny to me) faceoff violation penalty in the neutral zone. From what I saw and what the numbers suggest, the Devils were the better team tonight. They deserved this win. In a perfect world, that’s how it should always be in a Devils-Rangers game. This is not a perfect world, but the win was satisfying all the same.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Blueshirt Banter for a recap of tonight’s game if you want the opposition’s opinion.
Before We Get to the Players, Check Out This Sweet Goal: This is a very pretty game winning goal. This is why the headline says “sniped” instead of “edged” or something like that:
This play starts in the defensive zone. Pavel Zacha cleaned up a loose puck and saw he had an opportunity to get forward. Instead of chipping it away, he skated it out of his zone and then tossed the puck to his left to Jesper Bratt. This was smart as it yielded a 4-on-2 rush. Bratt gains the zone and a defender. Zacha follows and took Brendan Smith with him. As the defender gets in range, Bratt tosses it back towards the middle to a trailing Drew Stafford. Stafford was very smart to come in behind Zacha because he is wide open. He is free to skate to the high slot and rip a wrister to the corner. Brandon Halverson was beaten by a snipe and the Devils took the 2-1 lead in a glorious fashion. The whole play was just great from start to finish. It would have been understandable (and disappointing) if Zacha or Bratt dumped it away as they were out there for longer than usual. But they saw an opportunity and Stafford finished it.
Who Did Well Tonight?: Bratt, Zacha, and Stafford, definitely. Just read up on the goal.
More seriously, I was impressed with their overall games tonight. Stafford’s shot showed why he was signed instead of brought in on a PTO. In addition to the goal, he had three other shots on net and drew a high-sticking penalty. That is good work by the veteran. I didn’t like his tripping penalty - he lost his stick in between Marc Staal’s legs - and the Devils paid for it. That would be my one mark against him. Zacha was very active. The coaches put him in all situations and he finished behind only Ben Lovejoy for the most ice time by any Devils skater with 19:48. Zacha won half of his draws (9 for 18), took three shots, and while was just above even in attempt differential (10-9), the Devils out-shot the Rangers 9-5 when he was on the ice. Yes, I am required to state that this is preseason, but between this and Zacha’s other performances, I think he is really emerging as a player now. Bratt was a joy to watch. He played over eighteen minutes again. He was dynamite on the penalty kill, showing little fear and a lot of tenacity on the forecheck to win turnovers and disrupt the opposition. Like Zacha, Bratt’s shot differential in 5-on-5 was way better than the attempt differential. Like Zacha, Bratt took three shots on net. Like Zacha, Bratt was used in all situations. At this point, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see Bratt with Zacha on October 7. All three were standouts and I am happy they all contributed to the game winning score.
Of course, this win featured more than just those three Devils having very good games. Adam Henrique was absolutely a lot more involved on offense as he took seven shots on net himself. This included the shot that led to Joseph Blandisi settling the rebound with his foot before putting it past Lundqvist for a power play goal. Henrique was very effective in the run of play and utilized a lot on special teams. He made a good case for the #1 center position tonight. Steve Santini took a hooking penalty and that was his only main fault of the night. He was excellent in his own end tonight in both even strength and penalty killing situations. Ben Lovejoy (who was better tonight) and Brian Strait were also quite good on the PK. Blake Pietila and Nick Lappin had good “energy” games; both were useful in shorthanded situations as well. John Quenneville even contributed three shots himself and played in all situations, including being one of the five skaters against the Rangers’ six at the end of the game. There were just a lot of good performances.
I will highlight Cory Schneider. He was very in net and did so in a relatively low shooting game for him. He played the entire game and put in a solid night’s work. Schneider had no chance on the one shot that did beat him. Near the end of Stafford’s third period penalty, the Devils’ skaters were caught on the left side. The puck was outletted to a wide open Brandon Crawley. As he wound up his slapshot, Rick Nash planted his big body right in front of Schneider. The goalie could not see the shot, which was tucked inside the far post. It was the one fault of the PK to get caught like that. Granted, if someone won the puck from Lias Andersson, then that outlet doesn’t happen and the Devils would have killed it. Alas. But #35 should feel good about tonight; it meant that the Devils were very good in all three positions.
Who Did Not Do So Well Tonight?: Don’t take this to mean who was not mentioned already did not so well. Tonight, there was really one line that suffered: Blandisi, Brian Gibbons, and Miles Wood. They did not play a lot in 5-on-5 and that was probably for the best, even considering there was not a whole lot of it amid all of the penalties. They were beaten upon in limited minutes by Scott Kosmachuk, Cristobal Nieves (a.k.a. Boo Nieves), and Cole Schneider. It was not as if they conceded a lot of shots, but the attempts were very much against them in a few shifts. This may be a bit harsh as Miles Wood was out of the game for most of the first period. And Blandisi did score a seemingly-elusive power play goal. But these three struggled amid a team that did not.
Will He Be Suspended?: At about eight minutes into the game, Andrew Desjardins hit Miles Wood up high. Wood just fell flat on the ice, sprawled out. Definitely a hit to the head. John Moore rushed up to confront Desjardins. The hit was ruled an illegal hit to the head and so he was given a match penalty. Moore’s own beef made it a three-minute major. Wood did go to the back, presumably he was cleared as he returned to play limited minutes in the second and third periods. I think this definitely contributed to Wood having a not-so-hot night. I hope Wood really is OK. I would like the league to look at that hit and punish Desjardins. There really is not a time and a place for that kind of check and preseason is definitely not it.
A Thing from the Numbers to Highlight the John Moore Issue: When John Moore was on the ice tonight in 5-on-5 play, the Devils had eight shots on net and conceded six. For the good number (8), Santini matched him and only Bratt and Zacha surpassed him. For the bad number (6), Moore was all alone. Attempts were 10-8, too. This points to Moore’s issue. He may contribute quite a bit, such as three shots on net and drawing a call like he did tonight. The other team will also contribute quite a bit when he was on the ice too. It didn’t help that he took a roughing penalty shortly after Crawley’s goal too. Overall, he was good; but the numbers point to his issue: other teams make plenty of things happen against him even when he does good things himself. That is not good for a defenseman.
The Power Play Issues: While the Devils averaged more than a shot per opportunity and even scored a goal, the power play was again the worst part of the Devils’ game tonight. Sure, the personnel are not sorted out yet. Nick Lappin, for example, isn’t on a New Jersey Devils power play in the regular season unless there are a lot of injuries, Lappin is having the game of his life, and/or the team is tanking. Sure, this is preseason and this is where the kinks and the rust are supposed to be worked out. However, the Devils wasted a couple of their six power plays (the seventh one was ten seconds long, I’m ignoring it). Seeing Will Butcher and others just dump pucks in, only for Lundqvist or a Ranger defender easily collect it and throw it away so many times makes me think there is a deeper issue. I’ll (ugh) give credit to the Rangers’ penalty killers for forcing turnovers and making their clearances count. But the Devils had issues getting set up for the most part. That was a big problem with last season’s power play. It has started to become one in the last two preseason games. I do hope the coaches are re-considering their entry strategies instead of just hoping a full NHL roster would cure what ails the power play. While ultimately better tonight, there is a lot of room for improvement.
An Entertainment Fail: For many years, perhaps since the Rock opened up, the Devils would have a “Train Race” on the scoreboard to entertain fans during stoppages in play. The train that wins would yield a prize for a row in a section. This happened in the third period tonight. The problem is that the brand new massive scoreboard was still not down and operational yet. So there was no train race to actually see. We only had to rely on Kevin Clarke on the PA and our imaginations. It didn’t really work for anyone. But it’s preseason; game production is getting their kinks and rust off too.
The Emphasis on Penalties: Despite all of the heated play, there were no slashing calls tonight. There were two faceoff violations, both on the Rangers. The first came in the second period after the Devils iced the puck. The second and more hilarious one, came after a handpass ended a 6-on-5 Rangers attack with ten seconds left to play. This forced Halverson back in net, gave the Devils an offensive zone draw, and effectively iced the game for New Jersey. I would not be surprised if Rangers management is sending a message to the league about that. If they did, I have two words for them: too bad.
While I’m on the subject of penalties, I will point out that I was annoyed with the Devils being tagged for two too many men on the ice penalties in the first period. I understand pucks are live during line changes, but that was poor. Hopefully it was just an anomaly for tonight.
One Last Thought: Even in preseason, it’s always good to see the Devils prevail over the Rangers.
Your Take: The Devils beat the Rangers, 2-1, and they head into the crucial split-squad game with another night of good performances. You know what I thought of the game, so I want to know what you thought of the game. Who impressed you the most tonight? Who impressed you the least tonight? What should happen with Desjardins? What can the Devils do to make their power play more offensively threatening? What should the Devils take from this game into their next two games on Monday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
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