Last week, the New Jersey Devils opened their preseason with two games and a split squad between them. In Newark, New Jersey, they played the New York Rangers. They lost 3-4 in overtime. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils played their final preseason game and their last hockey game on the East Coast at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. They lost 3-4 in overtime again. That is about where the similarities end between both games.
This game was a disappointment in that the Devils went down 1-3 less than a minute into the third period, tied it up, and had some glorious chances in overtime to end it. Preseason games will not count after about 5 PM ET on October 1, so the fact that the Devils are still winless in preseason really does not mean anything. Still, it is always nice to beat a rival. Especially a rival in a high-paced, physical game that kind of, sort of felt like a rivalry game. The kind of, sort of is a function of the fact that it was a preseason game.
The performance itself looked nice but was not all that effective or efficient. The Devils were out-shot 26 to 39. Even strength was not kind to the Devils. For all of the successful forechecks and zone entries and good heads-up plays, they put two shots on net at evens in the entire first period. The second period was a bit better at evens, but the Rangers out-shot them by a 2:1 ratio, 14-7. After scoring early in the third, the Devils held the Rangers to one shot on net for the bulk of the period whilst attacking and scoring two goals of their own to tie it up. In the last five minutes of regulation, the Rangers just kept swarming the Devils and ended up out-shooting the Devils 12-8 in the third for a 5-on-5 total of 34-17 favoring the Blueshirts. Not that the Devils were pinned back over and over, but the Devils just struggled to turn their defensive stops, their won pucks, and their good energy into actual rubber being fired towards Henrik Lundqvist and Marek Mazanec. As you may expect with the heavy shot differential, the Devils were significantly out-attempted and out-chanced as well. The run of play was not in favoring New Jersey except for the beginning of the game and a long swell in the third period where the Devils tied it up from being down two goals.
That said, there were some improvements over their previous preseason game in Brooklyn. For one, they scored. The Devils mounted a legitimate comeback in a game where the Rangers were a real handful. It was driven by the top line, which is a good and a bad thing. It is good in that I wanted to see the Devils’ top forwards produce and be successful. It is verification that they are a suitable top line that can make things happen, even when it has not been going well. It is not so good in that I wanted to see some contributions from others. I liked a couple of the other forwards tonight, but the offense ended up being on the backs of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri.
For another improvement, the Devils were a lot better about penalties. They only took two minors all game. That is a far cry better than the ten against the Isles. Unfortunately, they were taken by players looking to impress the coaches and the one taken by John Quenneville near the end of the second period helped create the situation where Chris Kreider scored to make it 1-3 New York early in the third period. Worse, the Devils did not make much happen with their own power plays. I liked Sami Vatanen just bombing away towards the end of the first advantage as well as Hall finding Jesper Bratt only to be robbed by Lundqvist’s left pad. But the PP could have been more punishing when they followed up their first advantage (5 shots) with only two more shots and one post across their next two.
A third improvement would be their overtime approach. The Devils were better on the puck and created multiple legitimate scoring chances. Hall was flying in OT; Vatanen sprung him with a long pass for a close shot that deflected high out of play. Hall was sprung into space a second time and tried to beat Mazanec blocker side like he did in the third period - and was surprisingly stopped. Hall and Hischier eventually broke out in a 2-on-1 that ended with Hischier hammering the post. Shortly after that, Hischier hooked up Ty Smith in a 2-on-1 that the rookie missed on. Palmieri won a puck in the slot but could not pull the trigger. Even Marcus Johansson was right in front of the net for a dangerous re-direction that only ended up high over the net. Given that last week’s OT yielded one sort-of look, the Devils had at least four to put the game away. But it was not to be. The killer was a pass to Vinny Letteiri re-directing the puck up past Lack at the right post. If nothing else, it was exciting.
That all said, this was not that good of a performance. Outside of Hall, Palmieri, and Hischier, not many skaters had a good or impactful night. Most of the players on the so-called bubble did not really show up in a game where they really could do so. The defense was an eyesore. Conceding 39 shots out of 58 attempts will do that. Just look at the first goal of the game by Steven Fogerty. Forgerty and Cody McLeod were right at the crease jamming away in close against Eddie Lack in a little space with white jerseys surrounding them. Or look at the third goal against, where a set play leads to Egor Yakovlev being torched by Chris Kreider so Mika Zibanejad can feed him a killer cross-slot pass for a goal nobody was going to stop. Or look at the final five or six minutes of the third period. Exits became spotty as Rangers picked more and more of them off. There were multiple serious misplays on the puck that gave the opponent more opportunities. There were guys just not winning the battles or forcing them. Goaltender Eddie Lack had one of the best games you can get from a goalie who was beaten four times in a game. He deserved more support.
With this game over and Winnipeg and SC Bern in the distance, I would expect the Devils to start trimming their roster down to what should look like what it could be on opening night. If the Devils get run over in those two games and struggle to put in good work at both ends for most of a game, then I would start getting a little worried. But despite the ugliness, it was an OT loss instead of a decisive regulation loss. Whatever, it’s preseason.
The Opposition Opinion: If, for whatever reason, you want to hear what they think, you could go to Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is tonight’s highlight video. If nothing else, you can marvel at how powerful the shots were on all three goals by the Devils:
The Guys Who Looked Good that Will Be in New Jersey for Sure: Again, look at the top line. Hall, Hischier, and Palmieri each scored tonight. Each of them scored on rockets that torched the goalie they scored on. Palmieri’s goal was a result of a big Rangers mistake on defense: leaving him open in the slot. Hall found him from the endboards and Palmieri crushed a shot past Lundqvist. Hischier’s and Hall’s goals were similar in that they both skated into the zone with speed, they picked up the puck in stride, and they released a great shot from outside the left dot past Mazanec’s blocker and inside the right post. The three combined for 8 of the Devils’ 26 shots on net. There could have been more goals (and shots) since Palmieri hit a post on a power play and Hischier hit a post in OT. Not to mention Hall’s OT chances too. While the run of play was not always great for New Jersey when they were on the ice in 5-on-5 play, they absolutely rose to the occasion as the game went on.
Eddie Lack is guaranteed a spot in New Jersey as long as Cory Schneider remains out as he recovers from his hip surgery. Schneider is going to travel with the Devils to Winnipeg and Europe, so Lack may not be with New Jersey for long. But he was very good tonight. His legwork was on point as he made many pads saves and moved well in the crease. He did not get adventurous outside of the crease or in handling the puck. He did not yield a lot of ugly rebounds. Outside of the Fogerty goal, Lack did well in chaotic situations with bodies in his grill and/or in his area. He is not going to challenge Keith Kinkaid’s spot as the #2 goalie on the team. But concerns over how he may do when he does play should be somewhat allayed tonight.
The only goal against that he could faulted on was the second one. The other three were not really stoppable plays; he needed help on the shooter especially for the last two. This was an odd one. Brett Seney went to make a self pass off the boards to beat Neal Pionk. Pionk swatted the puck out of mid-air and made a pass to Timothy Gettinger. Gettinger is one on one with Eric Gryba. The defenseman stays with his man (good) and kneels to block a shot. Gryba does block the shot - and Lack reacted as if the shot was going to get through. The block did not lead to the puck going away. In fact, Gettinger easily picked up the puck off Gryba, went just around him, and fired a shot while Lack was off balance. That did not look good for Gryba or Lack. I’m leaning towards faulting Gryba since I think if he did not go down for a block, he could have either A) blocked it away or B) Lack could have made a routine save. Still, one arguable error out of facing 39 shots is nowhere near enough to cause a lot of concern.
I liked a lot of the hustle out of Jesper Bratt tonight. In a first period where the Devils did not get much going, it was easy to see #63 skate about and try to make things happen. Defensive help, forechecking, looking to make/finish plays, Bratt was active. He was a little less active as time went on. But he did play with the kind of energy you would want to see out of someone fighting for their spot on the roster. Putting up three shots out of five attempts is also something you would want to see out of him too. Bratt will definitely be in New Jersey. Who he will play with is another question. I think he helped his cause, though.
I will say I liked Ty Smith and Sami Vatanen - but only in offensive situations and usually on the puck tonight. Both were quite good at moving the puck tonight. While Smith had some close calls that could have been disasterous and Vatanen had a notable turnover or two, both were willing able to make the plays to keep the offense going. Not that they always led to shots, but both were constantly successful on the puck to find players in space, to change the point of attack, and, when available, fire a long one to get a player in motion. Defensively, well, no. I cannot praise any defenseman specifically for their defense tonight. Smith seemed to lose his awareness prior to the Fogerty goal among other miscues, and Vatanen was especially stuck back and overwhelmed at points throughout the night.
The Guys Who Looked (Sort of) Good that Were on a Bubble: This is a bit of a stretch, but see what I wrote about Bratt and apply it to Seney. OK, Seney had a rougher time in the run of play than Bratt. But the two together brought a lot of quickness and won some additional pucks off steals to help an offense that needed something. Seney may be seen as the guy Pionk picked off, but he tried to do the right thing. The defenseman just made a better play on him. It was not a super impressive night for Seney, though. He did not have a shot on net and he took a lot of faceoffs - and lost them, going 2-for-13 at the dot. Still, he was flying around as much as Bratt and trying to help make things happen before the Hischier line emerged.
The Bubble Guys Who Didn’t Bounce Up Tonight: OK, this is going to be a quick run through.
Egor Yakovlev (Iakovlev) probably had his best game with New Jersey so far. He looked bad on the Kreider goal. He also did not get a shot through to the net. But he stayed out of the box, he was not picked on in a physical game, and he did try to stick to his man. Do I think this was enough to warrant consideration as the team’s #8 defenseman? No.
Eric Gryba has been receiving some local pub about his experience and what he does off the ice and how he can be a good teammate and so forth. Gryba did himself few favors tonight. His one shot on net was a cool-sounding hard slapshot in the first period, but that’s it. For all of his vaunted physical play, it did not really have much of an impact. The Rangers were able to get to the crease and Gryba wasn’t clearing it (and neither were most of the Devils). While the team’s attempt differential when he was on the ice was not awful (13-15), the Rangers enjoyed time against Gryba as the Devils were out-shot by a bigger margin (6-11). He also took part in two fights while the Devils were rushing up ice with the puck, which was annoying. I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy but he failed to impress tonight.
John Quenneville was placed with Stefan Noesen and Brian Boyle tonight. Not exactly a great situation for someone who wants to show he can attack and play a good amount of ice time. But you have to work with what you’re given. This line had one really good shift in the third period. It was shortly after Hall’s goal where the puck was frantically bouncing, but that unit was able to keep play alive and get a couple of shots off. That was nice. What was not nice was the rest of the game where Quenneville was only noticed for tripping Zibanejad near the end of the second period.
Michael McLeod and Marian Studenic both skated nicely and were in over their heads at times. While McLeod had two shots on net and a little PK work, he was really not that effective. At least he was great at the dot with 7 out of 8 faceoffs won. Studenic was contributed even less with no shots on net and a holding penalty on a play where he held Vinny Lettieri from behind to try and win a puck he did not even win. Both of these guys just turned pro and it’s clear from preseason that Binghamton is really the next step for them. Tonight just confirmed it from my perspective.
Nick Lappin had two sweet looking goals last week. He apparently played tonight. Based on Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers loved it. That’s not sweet at all.
The Devils Who Didn’t Look Good but Will Be on New Jersey: Marcus Johansson just looked sluggish tonight. Granted, he had shifts with the swifter Bratt and Seney. But Johansson had only two memorable plays tonight. One: he tried to stash a puck past Lundqvist at the left post after a steal by Seney in the first period. Frederick Claesson denied him at the goal line. Two: Johansson re-directed a pass/shot (from Bratt?) in overtime right in front of Mazanec - and the deflection went high. While the run of play was not bad for Johansson, I expected him to do more on the ice tonight. He’s a veteran player who is seemingly a lock for the Devils’ top six. He could have and should have done more tonight.
Mirco Mueller was just steamrolled in the run of play. While he had one good shift in OT, Mueller just did not do a lot of good tonight. His pairing with Vatanen led to the Devils being out-attempted 7-21 and out-shot 5-13. Yes, the Devils scored a goal and did not give up one, but the 25-45 pairing has Hischier and Lack to thank for the score differential of +1. Mueller is definitely going to be a Devil at this point, but I want him far away from Vatanen for a while.
Brian Boyle was never a fast player. He looked quite slow in a fast game tonight. The Devils were out-shot by a bigger margin (-7) than out-attempted (-3) when he was on the ice. While he was centering a fourth line and not likely expected to create a lot, getting pounded is still not good. Boyle has been more effective in the past, even last season. I’m a little worried about how he can keep up as this was a fast-paced game where the emotions did get heated and Boyle was really just a guy out there.
One Last Thought: Since MSG broadcast this game, I was subject to the Rangers broadcasters plus Ken Daneyko. Did you know that Rangers head coach, David Quinn, carries a note pad on the bench? And he writes down his thoughts and communicates them to his players when they come to the bench? I know a broadcast has to find positives - the Devils’ broadcasters are no different - but it was a real stretch to big up Quinn for using a notepad exactly like a notepad. What did they expect him to do? Put it in his mouth when nervous like he was Jerry Tarkanian? At least enough happened on the ice to have the broadcasters be more tolerable and talk about what matters: the game.
What’s more is that the broadcast noted that the Rangers have a new theme for the 2018-19 season: Relentless. That’s right, the Rangers are ripping off the Devils. Between this and the Flyers’ diseased hairball of a Youppi! rip off that they call a mascot, it’s a good day to smirk at the rivals. Results of this game, aside of course.
Your Take: Once again, the Devils lost in OT in preseason to the Rangers, 3-4. While there were some good things about this game, there is still a lot to work on. What did you think of the game? Who did well in your eyes? Who did not do so well? Did anyone help their cause for making the New Jersey roster? Will anyone tonight that is on the “bubble” get another look in Winnipeg? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and/or followed along on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.