Earlier today, Alex wrote about rivalry games will matter for the New Jersey Devils as the 2018-19 regular season winds down. This afternoon, the New Jersey Devils offered a rebuttal. At the home of Our Hated Rivals, the New Jersey Devils flopped against the New York Rangers in a 2-5 loss. The game was effectively over after an awful first period by the Devils. Both goals by the Devils were consolation goals. Whatever “heat” that comes from scrums, beefs, battles, and scraps all seemingly went against the Devils. This was a bad game by any standard and it stings even more as it was a rivalry game.
I get that rivalries are more for the fans. Professional athletes are, well, professional and so they recognize that opposing players may be collagues, friends, and future co-workers. Still, rivalries help make sports more compelling and provide a reason to invest your time and money into a game even if the teams have nothing to play for. It is still disappointing that the Devils went into Madison Square Garden as if it was a preseason affair and earned a result worthy of the effort.
I rolled my eyes many times during that abysmal first period when the broadcast kept bringing up how this was an afternoon start and that could explain why the Devils “didn’t have their legs.” Check the schedule. Most of the Devils’ weekend games this season have start times before 7 PM ET. The Devils have had early afternoon games and performed way better than they did in some of them. I will agree the team didn’t have their legs. I’ll even add they didn’t have their arms, hockey sense, an understanding of the rules, and the general concept of urgency in that first period. But a 1 PM ET start time should be familiar to a team that is now 62 games into 82-game season. Besides, the Rangers had no issues with it at all as they stormed the Devils over and over and over.
I cannot stress enough how bad this first period was because it was where the game was lost. In 5-on-5 play, the Rangers out-attempted the Devils 12-3. 12-3! Shots were 6-2 in favor of Our Hated Rivals and scoring chances were an astonishing 9-1. High-danger chances? A massive 6-1 in favor of NY. Goaltender Alexandar Georgiev could have enjoyed reading a book in the first period. Any time the Devils had the puck beyond the red line, a man in blue would close down on them, stop them, and start moving the puck back with possession and in their direction. Cory Schneider was the only Devil to show up for sixty minutes and he did his best. But he was not invincible. He minimized the 5-on-5 dominance by the Rangers to only one goal against: a rebound goal by Chris Kreider, who warded off Travis Zajac to jam in a puck in-close to make it 0-3.
What of the other two goals? The Devils compounded on this 5-on-5 dominance by the Rangers by taking two penalties early on: a boarding penalty by Brett Seney and a tripping penalty by Drew Stafford at the tail end of a Devils power play that was threatening as teddy bear missing an eye. These would be The Devils’ penalty kill was excellent for 90% of it - and the Rangers scored at the end of each one. Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey out-worked Eric Gryba and Mirco Mueller at the crease for a loose puck and Vesey put it home. The official score sheet has it at even strength but the broadcast had a second left on the Seney minor. Whatever, 0-1 all the same. The Stafford minor did officially end with 0:01 left when Chris Kreider tossed a no-look backhand pass past Gryba to Ryan Strome on the weakside - so weak that none of the four Devils penalty killers even saw Strome hanging out in space. Strome one-timed it in past Cory Schneider on a virtually unstoppable shot. The penalty kill was honestly as bad as the goals against seemed. However, the damage was still done where the defensive effort around the crease left a lot to be desired. The Rangers’ special teams added to the first period stats for the following: out-shooting the Devils 15-4, out-attempting them 23-7, out-chanced them 17-2, and out-high-danger-chanced them 10-1. All that plus a 3-0 lead meant something huge would have to happen for the Devils to get back into this one.
It did not happen. The Devils at least stemmed the bleeding of attempts, shots, and goals int he second period. They killed their one penalty for the full two minutes. They had some of their own, but it was more volume than quality save for Blake Coleman hitting a post on a shorthanded attempt. A consolation goal would come in the third period to deny Georgiev a shutout: Brett Seney tried to a win a dumped-in puck in the corner, two Rangers converged on him and knocked the puck behind them, and Kenny Agostino slammed in the loose puck for a score. Any faint hope of a comeback was dashed minutes later when Chris Kreider parked himself in front of Schneider and next to Gryba and Brady Skjei took a long shot. The puck went through the screen to make it 1-4. Another consolation goal would come from Andy Greene on a rush play, but there was no real threat of a comeback. The Rangers kept the Devils more than honest as the Devils were still out-shot and out-attempted in 5-on-5 and all situations in the third period. Strome picked up an empty netter to seal what was a bad day for the Devils.
Adding some further insult to this result is that the Rangers also sat players ahead of the trade deadline. Good players in Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, and Adam McQuaid. This was not the 100% best roster the Rangers could have put out there and they rolled through the Devils. Their best players - Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Vesey, Skjei, Buchnevich, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, Tony DeAngelo - ran roughshod over the Devils. While the Devils are beset by injuries, just traded Ben Lovejoy this morning, and intend to trade Marcus Johansson soon, their NHL players were largely beaten today too.
In conclusion, the Devils looked unprepared at the start of the game and paid the price dearly. Their discipline both in terms of penalties and how they played was second-rate. They were beaten around the crease for scores. They failed to respond with a lot of offense and spent far too much time in their own end, as evidenced (among other things) by the 21-34 shot count in favor the Rangers. The 2018-19 Devils showed that any service they pay to this rivalry is only lip-service.
In one word: Phbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbt.
The Opposition Opinion: I don’t know why you want to read what a Rangers fan thinks about this game, but if you do, here’s a recap by Bryan Winters at Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: Sigh. From NHL.com:
Where Was This Then?: Of note about the fourth goal against, Kreider was screening Schneider with Gryba next to him. After the score, Kreider gave Gryba a cross-check - a shot, if you will. Gryba proceeded to try to haul Kreider down in an ensuing beef. Why Kreider hit Gryba after the goal, I don’t know. Maybe they were lipping off. Maybe Gryba made a smart comment about the Calder Kreider didn’t win. Maybe Kreider is just a jerk; a 7 on a scale of zero to Avery. I don’t know. But I saw it and wondered; where was the physical effort before the shot?
See, here is the thing about being physical and so forth on defense. It is much more about effort, awareness, and reaction than necessarily being big and strong. It helps to be beefy but it more effective to put in the effort. Someone who is willing to tie up a stick, get in the way, and try to box someone out before they can make a play will be more successful than just being beefier than their man. Gryba and Mueller are not small dudes. And they were among the few Devils not destroyed in the run of play in 5-on-5. But when the play went to the crease, they were being beaten. They did not have inside position. They did not go after the stick. They did not even cheat and try to restrain them. And it cost them multiple times today. But because their size and their rep, they will not get the criticism that, say, someone like Will Butcher would get.
But Why?: Also after that fourth goal against, John Hynes challenged it for goaltender interference. Right before the faceoff, the call came. The review was short and the replay clearly showed no such interference. So Hynes burned a timeout before the 4-on-4 situation begain. I figured it was worth noting if only to express my confusion over challenging it. I guess if it was wiped away, the score would be 1-3 and the Devils would theoretically had a chance for a comeback. It obviously did not work.
A Great Example of the Poor Defense This Team Has: With 9:59 left in regulation, Connor Brickley took a shot on goal. This was a five-on-five situation and all five Devils were fairly deep in the zone. As the Rangers recovered the rebound,the Devils proceeded to collapse down in the slot as Brickley moved a higher in the slot. At 9:54, Brickley had a wide open shot with no one challenging him in the higher part of the slot. Schneider made a very good save.
The sequence was symbolic for how bad the defensive effort has been this season for New Jersey. They give up a shot, they do not win the rebound, they do not try to go over after who won the rebound, they moved away from an open man, and that open man had a good place to shoot from. If I could, I would have had a question mark physically form above my head upon seeing it.
For what it’s worth, the five Devils were Greene, Steve Santini, Agostino, Kurtis Gabriel, and Brett Seney. Goals by Agostino and Greene aside, these five did not have a good day. Especially Santini.
Woof: Here’s a “fun” fact. Eleven Devils finished with a CF below 10 in 5-on-5 play. That means when they were on the ice today, the Devils registered fewer than ten shot attempts. With the exception of Agostino (7-7), this group were out-attempted by at least three or more. Joey Anderson almost-impressively finished his 9:24 with a goose egg in CF; he was not on the ice for a single attempt by the Devils in 5-on-5 play. That’s really hard to do, but Anderson managed it.
Failing an Opportunity: Ben Lovejoy was traded earlier this morning. I will have a post about that whole trade later this evening. It will be a full analysis of the deal. Since he was dealt and Connor Carrick was not ready to go, this ensured that Steve Santini would play this day. As a young right-handed defenseman who was kept from a regular spot on the blueline partially because Lovejoy, today would have been a good day to show the coaches he is worth some of Lovejoy’s minutes.
Nope. Santini certainly played a lot. He had 18:25 of ice time today. He spent a lot of that on defense. In 5-on-5 play, when he was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 4-18, out-shot 3-8, out-chanced 2-11, and out-high-danger chanced 2-6. He did nothing of note other than being present for a lot of Rangers in the Devils’ end. His most common line against was Jesper Fast, Vladimir Namestnikov, and Ryan Strome. They bodied him and his unit. He saw a lot of Staal, Neal Pionk, Skjei, and Shattenkirk opposite of him. They also bodied him and his unit. Even a handful of shifts against the Rangers’ fourth line yielded no offense from the Devils and a bunch for the Rangers. I understand he is not an offensive player and it is possible his pairing with Will Butcher is a bad one. But part of the job, if not the main job, of a defenseman is to help stop the opposition and support the play going the other way. Santini struggled mightily at both.
Santini received zero ice time on the penalty kill as the coaches went to Damon Severson to be next to Greene and kept with Mueller and Gryba for the second pairing. That is telling about where he is in the pecking order. Given how bad he was in 5-on-5 play today, I can understand the thinking that Santini has to yet to secure a spot on this blueline.
One Last Thought: It is easy to look at a game like this and say, “Well, what did you expect, good guys are hurt and there are AHLers in the lineup.” It is true that the call ups were almost all bad today. But Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Kyle Palmieri did not contribute as much as they really needed to. Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac, and Miles Wood were even less effective. The coaches have treated Brett Seney has a NHLer and he really looked like he belonged in Binghamton today. Two-thirds of the blueline are NHLers and they had a bad day. My point is that, yes, the Devils have plenty of players being asked to play above their level. But the ones who have proven they belong and are expected to do well also struggled a lot today and that was a factor in how this game went down.
Schneider deserved a better effort than this. So did the fans.
Your Take: The Devils are holding a decisive ‘L’ from Our Hated Rivals. The performance was bad with a really pitiful first period. The team is expected to still sell by the deadline. Where do you go from here? What’s your take on this loss and what should be coming up next? Please let me know your answers and your thoughts about the loss in the comments.
Thanks to Jenna for the game preview, CJ for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account, and those who commented in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.