Tonight, the New Jersey Devils opened up their preseason with a split-squad night. One team was in Newark, New Jersey hosting Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. One team was in Montreal, Quebec visiting the Montreal Canadiens. While the Devils held leads in both and were competitive for much of the game, they ended up losing both of them.
In New Jersey, the Devils lost in overtime to the Rangers, 3-4. The Rangers ended up matching each of the Devils’ goals. In the short 3-on-3, the Rangers had two straight attacks. Jesper Bratt lost the puck at the sideboards after a clearing attempt towards it and Jesper Fast picked it up behind him. With Michael McLeod heading up ice - he assumed Bratt would have it - the Rangers had a 3-on-1 against Sami Vatanen and goaltender Cam Johnson. Neal Pionk finished the drill with a backdoor shot no one was going to stop. It was a bummer of an ending where the Devils probably had their better of the two showings.
In Montreal, the Devils went into the third period holding a 1-0 lead. The game was short on shots as the Devils entered the third period down in shots, 10-13. But the difference maker came from Blake Speers. During a first period power play, defenseman Simon Depres tried to go D-to-D. He ended up moving the puck forward a bit instead of across - and right to Speers. Speers turned on the jets and broke ahead for a shorthanded goal. Montreal would rise up with a whopper of a third period. Victor Mete, Charlie Hudon, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi all scored within two minutes of each other to turn a 1-0 game into a 1-3 game. The Devils were subsequently out-shot and held in check for the remainder of the third period. Not that the game was littered with shooting attempts, but the Devils in Montreal did not even crack 20 shots in their 1-3 regulation defeat.
The good news is that this is preseason and the results really do not matter so much. Performances and injuries - as in, no injuries - are more important. I do not know as of this writing if anyone was hurt in either game. I do know that some players raised their stock a bit while others did not put their best skate forward tonight.
In a way, it may not be such a bad thing that the Devils lost both games as head coach John Hynes can utilize them as a teaching moment about what is to come in 2018-19. Certainly it is not good to lose to Our Hated Rivals in OT or give up three scores in quick succession in a third period in Montreal. But it is not the end of the world, the season, or anything. The main lesson that I would think Hynes will impart on the players is that they are not going to surprise anyone. Every game, regardless of the opponent and their situation, is going to have its challenges and opportunities. It is on the players to minimize the former and make gains on the latter. In both games, the Devils paid the price for their errors while not making the most out of their opponent’s issues. That said, the Devils did some good things in both games and those should be encouraged.
Tonight was their only split-squad game. As there are only three more preseason games before the team heads off to Europe, there will not be too many opportunities for some to make their case for a roster spot. We’ll see who did well enough to get another chance on Thursday, September 20 when the Devils go to Brooklyn. In the meantime, let us discuss both games.
The Game Highlights for the Devils-Rangers Game: While it certainly did not end well, this highlight video from NHL.com should clue you in on what was good (and bad) about the Devils’ performance at the Rock tonight.
The Opposition Opinion for the Devils-Rangers Game: I guess if you care about Our Hated Rivals, you should probably go read Bryan Winters’ recap at Blueshirt Banter.
The Devils-Rangers Game as a Whole: Do you like penalties? This game had 15 total calls, with 13 non-fighting penalties called in total. As a result, there was a lot of stopping and starting between 5-on-5 play. Plenty of practice time for special teams.
While the Devils went 2-for-7 with 10 shots on their power plays; they conceded three shorthanded chances with one of them being a breakaway goal by Lias Andersson. The power play units largely ran what Geoff Ward showed in New Jersey: four forwards and one defenseman, a 1-3-1 formation, build up around the edges to the top, and the occasional drop pass on their breakouts. When it worked, the shots created were pretty smart. When it failed at the blueline or with a defended pass, the Devils were usually caught in counter-attack situations. The Rangers were very aggressive, even sending two PK’ers on the puck carrier at times. The Devils’ own PK, which also ran what they did last season - a wedge plus one - was stingier except when they faltered. While they only allowed three shots out of seven power plays, which is usually superb, two of those three shots ended up being goals: one being a rocket of a shot by Pavel Buchnevich off a Rangers faceoff win and the other being a put-back in the slot by Lias Andersson. There was some good work on both ends, but further gains could be made.
The Devils looked really good to start the game. They pressed the issue. They scored first. By the end of the first period, the Devils nearly made it 3-1 a couple of times. The Rangers struggled to attack with no shots on net in the first nine minutes and did little when they had the puck. Unfortunately, that did not lost. The Rangers showed up to the rink ready to play hockey in the second period and put up plenty of offensive pressure. They drew calls; they made the Devils’ bottom six tonight look like a bunch of AHLers; and they made it a game. The third period was more even. Annoying as it was to see a PPG responded with a PPGA not long after, the Devils, I thought, did more at the end to try and break the deadlock. The Rangers, in the latter two periods, were successful at catching the Devils off guard with long passes through the neutral zone. Good on Cam Johnson, the third period goalie, to make two breakaway stops. Bad on the Devils for not adjusting and/or accounting for the speed of Cole Schneider. Still, when push came to shove, the better lines by the Devils were a bit better than the NHL line the Rangers rolled out (although Andersson probably did plenty for his own case for a NHL spot tonight).
Overtime was brief with all of two shifts. The opening shift saw an attack by Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Andy Greene amount to not much. The Rangers responded, forcing a nice scramble of saves by Johnson. The second shift saw McLeod, Bratt, and Vatanen. The Rangers attacked, the aforementioned loss of the puck by Bratt with McLeod too far up ice, led to the 3-on-1, and Pionk finished it.
In total, the shots ended even at 27-28 and 16-17 in 5-on-5 play, both in favor of the opponents. Likewise, attempts in all situations, 50-51, and 5-on-5 hockey, 29-30, were also slightly in favor of the Rangers. I think that’s fair. Despite a better first period and strong ending in regulation, the game ended up being even with loads of man advantages spread about. The Rangers had the better of the Devils in two shifts in OT and in 3-on-3, that’s all you need on some nights. While I was at the Rock catching this game live, on paper this looked a lot better than what transpired in Montreal. But I’ll summarize that game after going into more detail about this one.
Who Raised Their Stock for the Devils?: First and foremost, you have to appreciate what Nick Lappin and John Quenneville did tonight. Both forwards are considered to be on the “bubble” and both made it on the scoresheet. Lappin had two goals and Quenneville had a goal of his own. What’s more was that these were not bloopers or jam plays or flukes or even wide-open nets. These were goals scored on well-placed, well-read shots. Lappin was open in the slot for both of his goals and he torched both Ranger goalies on each. Quenneville went far-post on a great shot from above the right dot. These goals were not just important in the game, but they also are evidence that both guys can rip it in an offensive situation. Lappin had the better game in the run of play in 5-on-5 situations. He also stayed out of the box, whereas Quenneville took a cross-checking penalty prior to fighting Rob O’Gara in the first period. Lappin also did not have a potentially disastrous turnover like Quenneville did late in the game while his team was changing. Still, both guys helped their causes tonight.
Second, give it up for the Greene-Santini pairing. Per Natural Stat Trick’s full report, they saw over six minutes of 5-on-5 play from Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, and Pavel Buchnevich. The pairing saw only one shot against them between all three of those Rangers being on the ice. Against all Rangers, Greene was only present for three shots against and Santini only saw five. That speaks to a lot of the good work they put out there tonight. They stopped attacks well, they exited the zone well, and they even had a couple good looks. In a game filled with penalties, it was good to see them stay out of the box too. The only time I think they faltered was on Andersson’s PPG in the third period, but even that was a bang-bang play. Still, that was one error of sorts on an otherwise great performance. Not that Greene has anything to prove, but this night should help Santini’s case to be a regular at the start of this season.
Third, I like how Cam Johnson looked for over a period. He denied two rebounds. He looked quick in the crease. His stops in OT were good. I don’t think he had a real chance on either of the goals against him. He definitely did not in overtime. Keith Kinkaid was OK as well. Goaltending was not really an issue for New Jersey as much as discipline, dealing with pressure, and puck movement were tonight. But Johnson likely did better than his counterpart in Montreal tonight. That is a battle that will go all the way to Binghamton.
Fourth, among veterans not really fighting for any spot, other than Greene, I liked a lot of what I saw out of Brian Boyle tonight. For a bottom-six player, a lot of words like “heart,” “grit,” “toughness,” and “team-player” gets thrown around. Boyle showed all of that as he went for blocks, he looked to make plays, he had some strong shots, and he even had a slapper that beat Marek Mazanec that just crushed the post early in the third period.
Fifth, Ty Smith got to play a lot of defense tonight and I think he has some work to do on that front. But when he had the puck on his stick, he was notably smooth. With all of the power play time tonight, both units got plenty of work and I think it is fair to say that Smith was better than Sami Vatanen. Smith was better on moving it up, making passes, handling forecheckers, and successfully carrying the puck in. On both power play goals by the second unit, Smith was definitely involved in the build-up play including the goal scoring play itself. He’s only 18 and he did not seem fazed by the Rangers’ aggressive approaches. In 5-on-5 play, he tended to be more “in the crowd,” but I’ll take that with the other good stuff as a positive. I don’t think Smith will make a run for the NJ roster, but if tonight is a glimpse of the future, then the Devils may have the next Will Butcher in their system already.
I don’t think it’ll help him make the team, but I do want to highlight one bottom-six Devil: Blake Pietila. He did not do a whole lot that was very good; but he did create Lappin’s first goal and that warrants a highlight. Eric Gryba tried to lead him with a long pass into the neutral zone. Pietila is not big and he had stretch pretty far to get his stick on it. Even then, the puck was knocked forward. Pietila had to race Pionk to the puck and he did well to position his body on him to both shield the defender from the puck and collect it himself. Pietila made the right read to Lappin, who finished the play with aplomb. While both Pietila and Gryba received assists on the goal, Pietila’s was more crucial. He can say that more than, say, Kevin Rooney or Kurtis Gabriel.
Who Didn’t Do So Well for the Devils?: Among players who are not at risk of losing their roster spot, I was sort of underwhelmed by the top line of Hall, Hischier, and Bratt. They were not terrible, but I expected more out of them. Hall had some bright flashes where just exerted himself. He gave everyone in the arena a gasp when his shot powered through Marek Mazanec late in the game, only to trickle wide and slowly. He powered through almost everyone at the start of the third period and almost scored a quick PPG. There was that from the MVP. Hischier was just kind of “there” and Bratt, well, did not do well in OT on top of not doing a whole lot in the game. I think all three will be fine; but this was not their best outing.
Sami Vatanen, in my opinion, was worse. While he had a 18-year old as his partner, he was not so successful on the first power play unit. He took four shots on net, which is good for him since he has a good shot. But when it came to being stuck in his own end, he did not exert himself well enough to help make exits. Granted, he had some AHL-level talent to work with on some shifts that hurt the cause. But for a NHL veteran who was on the team’s first pairing last season, I wanted him to make more of a point on the game. Instead, the Devils were out-shot and out-attempted when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 play.
Yegor Yakovlev (or Egor Iakovlev) really did not show much beyond being physical presence. He took two minor penalties, which was not good. Maybe the second one was necessary; but the first for slashing a stick out of Buchnevich’s hands was not good. He added nothing much going forward. Sure, it did not help him that his partner was Eric Gryba and his common forwards were Rooney, Pietila, and Gabriel. But for a veteran signed from the KHL, I was hoping to see him take more command of the situation on the ice. He really did not. I suspect he’ll get another chance or two, but I was left unimpressed by him tonight.
I left the Rock thinking I really could do without seeing much of Rooney, Gabriel, Eric Tangradi, Gryba and even Pietila (one good play doesn’t make up for a not-so-good night) in a New Jersey uniform this season. Not that any of those five were really close to making the roster. But I don’t think they should get too many more opportunities to prove otherwise. All five were deep in the red in CF%. Sure, Pietila had that assist to Lappin, he did a lot of hustling for not much tonight. While Tangradi did draw some calls and two shots on net, that was the extent of his contributions tonight. Gabriel was just a body on the ice. Gryba’s secondary assist was only salvaged by Pietila, he had some rough pinches, he had a penalty, and he just struggled on defense. Rooney’s low was taking two hooking minors in the same period; the first put the Devils in a 44-second two-man disadvantage near the start of the second and the second led to the Rangers going faceoff win-shot-score and made it 2-2. Again, I don’t think either of those guys were close but tonight solidified it for me.
Lastly, I was left somewhat unimpressed by McLeod. Maybe I should have been? He did win seven out of nine faceoffs, he had three shots on net, and he had the primary assist on Lappin’s second goal. On the other hand, I expected to see a speedster and while he was not slow, he was not really threatening anyone with it. I didn’t think he helped push the play forward with his skills and the numbers at Natural Stat Trick for this game support that. Clearly, the coaches liked him enough to throw him out of there in OT. Granted, it was not like the Devils had a ton of options at forward. I don’t know, I guess “meh” would be a good word? I don’t think “meh” will get you to New Jersey right away; your mileage may vary on that.
One Last Thought: If you want to see an example of how bad a power play can be and how good it can be, then the Devils’ third power play of tonight’s game is a good example as any. The first unit saw a pass easily knocked out of the zone, fail to make a good zone entry, and included a rare mistake by Hall. His pass to Hischier was picked off by Andersson by the right boards, who took it in for a shorty. It was an awful showing from a NHL veteran unit. The second, less strong unit, was far better. They gained the zone with the puck, they maintained puck possession, and they made good decisions at passing the puck. Yes, it ended with Quenneville scoring, but it was a result of a good process before then.
The Game Highlights for the Devils-Canadiens Game: From NHL.com, here are the highlights from this one:
The Opposition Opinion: They probably saw this game, so you may want to jump on over to Habs Eyes on the Prize. There’s this short recap by someone named Shayna. It goes into what happened in each period.
Uh...The Summary: So I did not see this game since I watched the Devils-Rangers game live. Please feel free to take all of what I am about to write from here on out with a grain of salt. Here is what I understand of what happened:
Not a lot of shooting happened for the first two periods. Your all-situation stats by period: 14-12 in attempts and 8-5 in shots favoring NJ in the first; 9-18 in attempts and 2-8 in shots favoring Montreal in the second; and 14-19 in attempts and 7-12 in shots in the third period. Again, there were a total of 23 shots in the game after forty minutes of play. It is even sparser if you go down to 5-on-5 play only.
There were also fewer penalties in this game. Nine total between both teams. The Devils really played with first with all three of their minor penalties taking place in the first period. Seriously: one within two minutes of the game (Blake Coleman for slashing), one within two minutes of the end of the period (Drew Stafford for tripping), and one in the early-middle (Marcus Johansson for holding). That last one did yield a shorthanded scoring situation and goal for Blake Speers, so good on the youngster for making the most out of that. Also good on the Devils for limiting the Montreal power play to all of one shot on Eddie Lack between all three situations. They also put up three shorthanded shots, including Speers’ goal. On the flipside, it was not such a good night for the Devils’ power play as they had four opportunities and just three shots on net. Still, special teams was in favor of the Devils in Montreal.
There was even a goal taken away. Early in the third period, Brett Seney took the puck hard to the crease. Charlie Lindgren made the save and Blake Coleman seemingly jammed in the loose puck for the score. But the ref waved off the goal immediately for interference. Seney did get Lindgren’s stick away as he went across the crease and Coleman, well, went right into him.
However, the big story happened a little later in the third period. While Montreal kicked up the run of play in their favor in the second period, Eddie Lack just kept denying them. Mackenzie Blackwood took to the crease for the third period, as per the team’s plans, and Montreal struck gold. First, Michael Chaput found an open Victor Mete with a killer pass across the slot for a one-timer. Blackwood was not going to stop that. He probably wished someone (Butcher?) saw Mete coming down into space. Second, just over a minute later, Blackwood came out of his crease to play a dumped-in puck. He flung it around (he missed Mirco Mueller) the left corner and Charlie Hudon got to the puck as Blackwood slowly returned to the crease. Hudon slid a low shot towards the net and caught Blackwood out of position. The puck got by Blackwood to make it 1-2, which was definitely his fault. Less than a minute later, Simon Depres successfully made a D-to-D pass to Rinat Valiev. Valiev, above the right circle attempted a shot. Kyle Palmieri got a stick on it and the puck went across the slot. It went past Johansson and Kotkaniemi one-timed the loose puck from the right circle to the left post. It was a banger of a shot, one that would beat a lot of NHL goalies. Blackwood only had the one bad goal, but the Devils were stunned by the three goals against. Montreal kept on keeping on and the Devils just did not have an answer. The disallowed Coleman goal was the closest to it.
The lack of response against any of those three goals is a concern. I believe a larger concern may lie with the lackluster offense of the first two periods. Yes, the Devils out-shot Montreal 8-5 but that was led by three shorthanded shots on net. The second period featured all of two shots by the Devils. While it is the first preseason game for all of the Devils, ten shots by a group of NHL and AHL guys against a group of NHL and AHL guys is weak. The team in Montreal included the likes of Kyle Palmieri, Damon Severson, Will Butcher, Brett Seney, Blake Coleman, Joey Anderson, Pavel Zacha, and Drew Stafford on a PTO. No, this is not a murderer’s row of offensive talent. But it is a mix of players who have skill, who can shoot, and even has some incentive to want to have good performances. Even the non-Hischier lines and defensive pairings did more in New Jersey. And the 5-on-5 differentials - CF%, SF%, SCF%, take your pick - was almost across the board bad for New Jersey against Montreal as per Natural Stat Trick. I know it was a split-squad night, but seeing that is like eating a raw onion. We’ll see how it is sorted out for Thursday. While I did not see this one live,
Who Seemingly Did Well in Devils-Montreal?: You got to give some love to Eddie Lack. While I don’t think his #3 spot in the depth chart is in danger, you’d want him to play well as he’ll likely start this season as the #2 goalie behind Kinkaid. He did very well. He was not beaten at all. No, he did not face a lot of shots with only 13 counted on target. But he stopped them. His biggest saves included a lovely kick save on Hunter Shinkaruk on his doorstep and two big stops on Mete and Artturi Lehkonen in the second period. Lack did his job well.
I guess Speers for finishing the shorthanded breakaway should count. It was a big moment for him. He took his opportunity and beat Antti Niemi clean. He also did not get wrecked in 5-on-5 play, although he did play less than 8 minutes in it.
I’m stretching here, but Josh Jacobs didn’t get killed in 5-on-5 play. He actually finished just ahead of 50% CF% and SCF%. He was the only Devil on the team to do so. Of course, he was also limited to under 12 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time so I would take that praise with a grain of salt.
Aside - Montreal’s Top Players?: While they didn’t hit the scoresheet, Brendan Gallagher and Philip Danault had the rare 90+% CF% count tonight in 5-on-5 play with Tomas Tatar close behind at 87.5%. All three did not see a single shot by New Jersey in 5-on-5 play and each witnessed (or assisted or shot) at least 9 shots on net. Kotkaniemi and Lehkonen were also frequent attackers, each with a CF% above 70%. Four of their six defensemen finished above 66% CF%. I know CF% is not everything, but when it is this high, it says pretty loudly how things went when they were on the ice. They went really, really well for Montreal.
Of course, Montreal did limit the Devils to total of 17 shots and only 11 in 5-on-5 play whilst out-scoring them 3-0. Yeah, 5-on-5 was definitely in their favor. Maybe Gallagher, Danault, and Tatar did not get a point, but they seemingly bossed the Devils around tonight. That’s got to make Montreal fans excited.
Who Seemingly Did Not Do Well in Devils-Montreal?: There was a lot of disappointment. It is pretty disappointing to see only one shot on net combined between Palmieri, Zacha, and Johansson. Seriously? Just the one shot on net between all three of you?
It is pretty disappointing to see Damon Severson and Mirco Mueller get steamrolled in 5-on-5 play. Not that Hudon, Tomas Tatar, Shinkaruk, Tomas Plekanec are all scrubs, but they did a lot of damage against New Jersey and caused the Devils to play a lot in their own end. Tonight was not an encouraging night for a potential second pairing on the New Jersey blueline.
It is pretty disappointing to see a power play that did include Butcher and Palmieri on one unit and the Devils yielded only three shots out of four opportunities.
I would have liked to have seen more done by Seney and Anderson as they are some of the better prospects in the system. Tonight would have been a good night for them to put in a good performance even while the rest of the team was poor. It could have helped them stand out even more. They did not do very much in the run of play. (Creating a disallowed goal does not count either). Maybe they did well off the puck, but what little I’m seeing is not too encouraging either.
I really can’t fault Blackwood on the first or third goal against. That second goal against was a mistake. For someone known to be athletic, seeing him slowly get back into the crease only for a low shot from a tight angle get through him was face-palm worthy. Blackwood may not be fighting for a spot in New Jersey, but his spot in Binghamton is not so safe. For his sake, I hope it is his last error like that.
One Last Thought: I’m glad this is the first and only split-squad game for the year.
Your Take: The Devils lost both preseason games. The Rangers OT loss was the better team performance with more positive takeaways. The Montreal loss was definitely a Montreal-controlled game with not so many positive takeaways. It’s preseason so please focus on performances over results. The next preseason game is on Thursday. Please leave your thoughts about each in the comments.
Thank you all for following along in the Gamethread and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.