Tonight, the New Jersey Devils did something I almost cannot believe to be true but it apparently is. The Devils managed to lose their first game in regulation after leading in two periods with John Hynes as a head coach. Hynes has been the boss behind the bench since 2015. He has overseen exactly one (1) good season by the Devils in his career. Even then, you would expect at least one night where the team had an utterly miserable and costly third period. That night was tonight - except the Devils also had an utterly miserable second period. Adding insult is that it was in the house of Our Hated Rivals: the New York Rangers.
The Devils were up 2-0 by the end of the first period. It was a good period. The run of play was relatively even. According to Natural Stat Trick, attempts were 7-7 and shots were 6-5 in favor of the Rangers in 5-on-5 play. The Devils drew three calls and received two power plays because the refs believed Egor Yakovlev somehow embellished Pavel Buchnevich’s stick between his legs. Shortly after killing a minor penalty to Michael McLeod, Damon Severson scored from distance thanks to a screen in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Near the end of the period, Libor Hajek high-sticked Kenny Agostino. That power play ended when Blake Coleman tipped in a long shot from the center point by Will Butcher. The Devils finally scored their first power play goal in their last 26 attempts. Coleman finally scored his first goal since January 28. And it was against Henrik Lundqvist. It was a good period. I was pleased and, most likely, you were pleased. The Devils were in a good position going forward.
Unfortunately, the Devils would be out of position many times for the next forty minutes. Only Cory Schneider had been excellent throughout the rest of the game. He needed to be.
In the second period, the Devils were out-shot 14-2 and took two legitimate minor penalties. Including the two shorthanded situations, Natural Stat Trick had the following team stats. The Rangers led in attempts 30-9. The Rangers led in scoring chances 13-6 (chances includes missed shots, so good job Devils for blowing 4 scoring chance opportunities). The Rangers led in high-danger scoring chances 10-0. Schneider had to come up big on many great looks from the Rangers - and he did. The only shot in the second period that eluded Schneider was a long shot from Kevin Shattenkirk that seemingly hit off Ryan Strome (I thought it went past McLeod) and then hit off Schneider and in. A seeing-eye shot deflected in is a break for a team that did more than enough to get one. I cannot fault Schneider if only because he probably should have been beaten multiple times earlier.
In the third period, the Devils put up more of a fight by actually making the Rangers play some defense for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the Rangers kept on attacking and kept on making the Devils suffer greatly in their own end of the rink. Zone exits were denied and one of which led to a flowing move that ended up with Hajek not only wide open but with enough time to ring a shot bar-down on Schneider to tie up the game. This happened within the two minutes of the period. The Devils continued to look horrendous in their own end with Schneider having to stop multiple shots off cross-slot and cross-ice passes and the Devils benefiting from the Rangers making a bad read here and there at times. But the possession took its toll and the Devils skaters kept getting lost at inopportune times. It cost the Devils when Mika Zibanejad found Vladislav Namestnikov open next to the slot. Namestnikov fired a hard one-timer that beat Schneider and put the Rangers up one. The Devils tried to respond but they could not get much close to Lundqvist and the Rangers never really stopped attacking. The differentials were massive and it was furthered when the Devils had to kill a dubious minor penalty assessed to Coleman. Strome put home an empty netter to seal the comeback win for Our Hated Rivals. The third period team results for all situations as per Natural Stat Trick: 30-15 in attempts, 17-10 in shots on net, 16-2 in scoring chances, and 5-0 in high-danger chances. Again, the Devils were horrendous in their own end and Schneider was excellent - even if he was beaten twice in the third period.
The sad thing is that this could be argued as the Devils’ best game against the Rangers this season.
After months of lamenting the goaltending and Cory Schneider in particular, Schneider has a great game - and the guys in front of him are terrible. As much as I understand the Devils do not even have two lines’ worth of NHL-caliber forwards, I’m not really interested in excuses for those second and third periods after an actually good first period. For those who want to say that this will be all OK by the time the 2019 NHL Draft comes up, I remind you that the top three picks are chosen by a lottery. Since Anaheim won yesterday, Detroit lost today, Ottawa lost today, and Los Angeles is losing right now, the Devils gain no ground on the bottom and remain in 28th. In a lost season, there is very little to cheer for the Devils. A win over the Rangers would have been fantastic. The Devils were on their way, they finally scored a power play goal in doing so, their PK was strong as ever, Schneider provided a great performance, and the Devils just fell apart in a way such that I’m left completely disappointed.
The Opposition Opinion: If, for whatever reason, you want to know what the Rangers think about all of this, Bryan Winters has this recap at Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: Will be up later from NHL.com.
Note About the Skaters on Ice for the Goals Against: According to the Game Summary at NHL.com, here were the Devils on the ice for each goal against Schneider:
- Strome deflection goal: McLeod, Gignac, Stafford, Carrick, Butcher
- Hajek’s equalizer: Coleman, Gignac, Stafford, Carrick, Butcher
- Namestnikov’s one-timer: Agostino, Zajac, Palmieri, Carrick, Butcher
I fully get that the Devils have a lot of Binghamton players on their roster. Tonight was a great example that in addition to struggling at creating offense and finish plays, AHL-caliber players also struggle at playing defense at the next level. For example, Eric Tangradi, who made his Devils debut and played over 14 minutes in 5-on-5 play, was out-attempted 7-21 tonight. He was not even a paper tiger on defense, he was a paper kitten. But on the goals against, the Devils had two NHL defensemen and at least one NHL forward (I will understand if you question Stafford is a NHL-caliber forward) out there. And the one with two AHLers on the ice saw a deflection goal against. The most egregious of the three was Namestnikov’s one-timer as he was able to get open in a great location on the ice and there were five NHL players out there. Guys who should know better about picking up men in coverage and rotating as needed.
Don’t get me wrong, the B-Devils had some really awful shifts at times. But the few NHL forwards the Devils still have on their roster were owned tonight. When Zajac was on the ice in 5-on-5, the Devils were out-attempted 1-16 and out-shot 0-11. That is abysmal and that’s from Travis Zajac! Someone who absolutely knows better than the guy just trying to catch up on defense tonight. Palmieri and Agostino were bad but not nearly as bad. My larger point is that as true that the Devils are even more shorthanded on talent and that definitely showed tonight, the actual New Jersey Devil skaters need to perform as well. That didn’t happen at MSG this evening either.
Milestones: Despite having a bad game overall, Zajac did set up Butcher’s shot on the power play that Coleman tipped in. That secondary assist is his 500th point in the NHL. Zajac was already the fourth-leading scorer in points in franchise history; the 500 is a nice round number. Kirk Muller is just 20 points away for him. On the opposite end, McLeod assisted Agostino on a zone entry after his minor penalty. That secondary assist was his first point in the NHL. Congratulations to him, I hope there will be more. That assist was for a goal by Severson, which was his tenth of the season. This is the first time Severson has scored double-digits in goals as a professional as well as a career high for the defenseman. Congrats to him for that as well.
Other Lost Bits of Goodness: While Schneider was easily the best Devil on the ice tonight, I do have to give some credit to the pairing of Andy Greene and Severson. Despite that the Devils allowed 41 shots on net and 32 in 5-on-5 play, the Greene-Severson pairing only allowed five shots in 5-on-5. They played well. They defended well even though the team as a whole was lit up. Severson was responsible in both ends and Greene was active in a good way. The duo also did very well on the penalty kill, which was another positive for the Devils this night. Greene and Severson have had some real bad performances and bad moments throughout this season. Tonight was not one of them.
Additionally, the Devils did well as a team on special teams. Their first power play was threatening and their second power play actually converted for the first time in a long time. Well done. The Devils had to kill five penalties: four real ones and one dubious “tripping” call on Coleman in the third period. Coleman threw an open-ice hit on Jesper Fast but somehow that was tripping. Whatever. Out of the five penalty kills, the Devils allowed seven shots and took four shots of their own. The Rangers’ power play was all over the place and really only threatened to score on one and a half (maybe two, if we’re stretching it) where they really threatened to convert. On a night where both sides of special teams went in the Devils’ favor, the Devils falter big time at even strength. So it goes in 2018-19.
Debuts: Eric Tangradi made his Devils debut tonight. I liked how willing he was to shoot and so he ended the night with three shots on net out of four attempts. I didn’t like how he was just a body away from the puck and the Rangers picked on him. I’m confused that he played 15 minutes tonight. Did his inclusion mean Nick Lappin - a similar player - was limited to ten minutes? Probably. Was it an upgrade? Not really.
Brandon Gignac made his NHL debut tonight. As he’s 21, there is more of a future to believe in than there is for Tangradi, Lappin, Kurtis Gabriel, Blake Pietila, and such. Gignac had a few decent moments amid being forced to play a lot of defense tonight. On some shifts, he did well to pick up open men down low and in the middle. On others, he faltered on completing zone exits and making plays. One that comes to mind was the exit before Hajek’s goal. I think that sent him down to the fourth line for a few shifts. In 5-on-5, when Gignac was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 8-16 and out-shot 3-10. But Gignac one of those three shots on net and displayed some quickness when the Devils were able to have the puck in the Rangers’ end. I wish he did more but for a 21-year old on a team with a losing streak and with nothing to play for along with many of his Binghamton teammates with him, I’m not bothered by it. We’ll see if he gets another game if/when other players are healthy from injury and/or illness.
One Last Thought: The game started a little later than usual because the team was honoring Rick Nash. And now a list of major accomplishments by the Rangers when they had Nash:
- The Rangers made it to a Stanley Cup Finals and lost to the Kings in fewer games than the Devils did.
- Nash made the All-Star Game in 2014-15 and scored 42 goals that season.
- Did I mention that 42-goal season?
- Seriously, that’s kind of it.
At least they didn’t retire his number.
Your Take: Well, I was left unhappy by this loss. What’s your take on this loss? Didn’t Schneider deserve better? What can the Devils even do? How come they did so decently - even well - in the first period but not in the other two? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments. Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.