It may be preseason. It may be an exhibition game. It may be a game that counts for nothing in the bigger scheme of things. It is all true - and it does not matter. In any rivalry, you always want to see your team prevail no matter what the stakes are. For the New Jersey Devils, you know who is the main rival team. They are Our Hated Rivals. Tonight, they got together for a game and the New Jersey Devils indeed prevailed over the New York Rangers, 4-3. And it indeed does feel good to type that out.
A more accurate description was that they escaped Madison Square Garden with a win. The Rangers were definitely the more threatening team. It is true that there factors that led to this taking place on the ice. For one, the Rangers played from behind all game - another phrase I enjoy typing out - thanks to Nico Hischier re-directinga shot by Sami Vatanen into the net thirty-seven seconds into the game. For another, the Rangers had a more talented team on paper. Several of their top players of now and the future played tonight: Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Lias Andersson, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider, Brady Skjei, and Vitali Kravtsov. Several of those players looked quite good tonight; Zibanejad, Panarin, Trouba, Kakko, Kreider, Skjei and Fox in particular. Adding to that, the Devils took four penalties to the Rangers’ one and the Rangers power play did incredibly well on their first three advantages.
The result of all of this is that the Devils were out-shot 42-24. While it was closer in 5-on-5 play, the Rangers still out-shot the Devils 27-20. The power plays were a huge driver of the shot differential as the Rangers’ man advantage generated 12 shots out of 23 attempts. The Devils’ lone opportunity was not bad with four shots out of four attempts but that is still a sizeable gap. It was far worse when you look at high-danger scoring chances, or unblocked attempts in the slot and at the crease. In 5-on-5 play, the Rangers led the Devils 16-9 in that particular category. The Rangers power play generated eight of them. This was not a case of the Devils being out-done by volume. This was a case where the Devils needed their goalies to be great, make the most of their fewer chances, and get some breaks. Tonight, the Devils received all three.
Cory Schneider was fantastic in the net tonight. He made loads of difficult saves while making it look easy to go post to post. His reactions were on point and made a number of robberies on various Rangers. Schneider even denied Kravtsov on a breakaway and made a follow-up save while not even facing the shooter. It was vintage Schneider; not the goaltender who was in the net for the last two seasons or so. He was only beaten while in the crease three times: two posts on the same power play shift and a one-timer blast by Panarin. The post shots would not have been soft ones and the Panarin goal against certainly was not. The only oops for Schneider was a miscommunication behind the net with Smith that led to a steal by Grant McKegg and an easy goal for Michael Haley. Still, the Devils were under siege and a lot of pressure in their own zone, especially on the power play, plenty of times tonight. For the first two periods, Schneider kept the Devils in the game and maintained their lead.
Per the MSG broadcast team tonight, Schneider had the option to play the whole game. With 27 shots and 16 high-danger chances, Schneider clearly had a full night’s work in two periods. Evan Cormier came into the net for the third period and the young professional did quite well. He had plenty of activity with one power play against, 13 shots against in total, eight high-danger chances against in total, and a 2:14 long 5-on-6 situation where the Rangers spent about 95% of it in New Jersey’s end of the rink. It is not an easy situation for any goalie. But Cormier held his own. He was only beaten on a second chance shot in the slot; a rebound put in by Lias Andersson despite more than enough white jerseys in the area that could have conceivably made a play. It was a very good period in relief by a goalie who was not guaranteed to play tonight.
In total, the Devils received great goaltending performances. It may seem odd to write given that three goals were allowed but given the quantity and quality involved, it makes sense. And there were some breaks in that regard. The Devils’ offense went flat at times but, again, they made some great moments to get and stay ahead in the contest. Hischier’s tip-in near the beginning of the game was welcomed and it was the start of a solid night from the young center. In the second period, after being quiet for much of the game until that point, Nikita Gusev emerged. The Goose finished a great pass by Brandon Baddock after he went around a defender (really!). After the goal, Gusev set up a scoring opportunity for Hischier and rang one off the iron himself. He was much better from that point onward. In the third period, goaltender Igor Shesterkin was having trouble holding onto pucks and managing rebounds. A shot by John Hayden and a crashing Brett Seney made him pay for it as Seney slid in a loose puck at the crease. It would hold up as the game winner. What’s that? I forgot the second Devils goal? That is because words cannot do it justice!
It may be a preseason game, but Mikhail Maltsev posterized Brendan Smith and Alexandar Georgiev on this play. This may end up being the Goal of the Year in the 2020 All About the Jersey Awards. I will lobby for its inclusion in the discussion. This is too filthy to relegate to just “a preseason goal.”
Anyway, the Devils prevailed largely on the strength of their goaltenders, scored some sweet goals that maintained their lead, and got some breaks along the way. Overall the performance by the Devils could have been a lot better tonight. Especially with respect to zone exits, discipline, and the penalty kill (which is related to the first two things). Nevertheless, the Devils without Hall, Subban, Palmieri, and Hughes faced off against plenty of the projected top guys for the Rangers in their building and came away with a win. The result may not matter because it is preseason. It still feels great to see the Devils beat Our Hated Rivals in any medium.
The Opposition Opinion: If, for some reason, you want a Rangers-based point of view on this glorious preseason victory by the Devils, then please visit Blueshirt Banter.
What Did Not Go Well at the Team Level: Since the preseason is more about evaluating performances, I want to go over who and what did not go well for New Jersey tonight.
The biggest issue for me at the team level was the penalty kill. The Rangers definitely had a talent advantage on paper and they definitely executed their man advantage superbly in their first three tries. Their first power play was almost entirely spent in New Jersey’s end of the rink. The second was perilously close to being scored on. The third one actually was. The concerning part was that the Devils just looked like pylons on it. In the rare times when they had the puck on their stick or it was loose, the Rangers would deny the exit and/or win the puck back. While the Devils did not ice their ‘A’ lineup and were definitely experimenting with their utilization (e.g. 2:38 of SH TOI for John Hayden), they were often dominated. Their plus-one in a wedge plus one was not able to apply pressure. Despite being set up around their slot, they still conceded a lot of scoring chances. I understand that even the best PKs have bad nights, but the best penalty killers by far for the Devils tonight was Schneider followed by Cormier.
Related to that, the Devils really did not need to take four penalties tonight. Will Butcher cleared a puck over the glass early in the game. OK, that was a mistake. Sami Vatanen dislodging the net on purpose; well, that was not so smart. Damon Severson knocking down Haley away from the play in the second period was not only unnecessary but ultimately costly. Miles Wood tripping up Brandon Crawley in New York’s end in a 4-3 game late in the third period was just not smart. These were avoidable calls. Discipline also means knowing what you need to do and sticking to it. For example, Ty Smith got lost a lot on defense which meant it was a harder night for Damon Severson and Smith unfortunately had a hand in two of the three goals against. A little more thought and he would have been more effective. For someone like Smith, I am confident that can be worked out. Penalties may be more of a team issue though.
And making zone exits just added to the pressure issues the Devils had. When the Rangers got going, the Devils just struggled to move the puck out of their own end. There were shifts where it did not matter if it was to simply clear it over the blueline or attempt a pass to a teammate. It did not matter if it was 5-on-5, 4-on-5, or 5-on-6. The Devils would just be denied multiple times, which only made life more difficult for the Devils. It meant more attempts, more time on the ice, more fatigue, and more opportunities for the Rangers to strike. Again, thanks to the goalies and some breaks involved, the Devils were not totally punished by it. But it did contribute to why the shots were so lopsided and why their power play was able to be so prolific.
What Did Go Well at the Team Level: There were some aspects of the team performance that I did like. I did like how the team started each period. I liked that got off to a good start. They did not get torched or come out sluggish. It did help a lot that Hischier scored super-early and Seney scored within the first five minutes of the third period. But the Devils came out with a good, competitive mindset no matter how they were feeling at the start of the night or after each period.
It also helped that the Devils were actually doing OK on the road in 5-on-5 play for the better part of regulation. There was an ebb and flow to it but the Devils really did not get wrecked constantly in the most common situation in hockey. The PK did, but not in the regular run of play. The Rangers definitely took over around midway through the third period in 5-on-5 play. But, again, they had a game to chase on home ice and they had more superior players on paper compared to most of the Devils. How the Devils performed in 5-on-5 has been a big issue during this rebuild and their play on the road was atrocious at points last season. Tonight was a pleasant change of pace even if the Rangers ran more away with the attempt and shot count as the game winded down.
The Devils’ lone power play was not half-bad at all. It wrapped around the second intermission. The short part in the second period featured a great set of puck movement that set up Jesper Boqvist for a shot in the slot and a better save from Shesterkin. In the early part of the third period, Gusev fired strong, high shot among three others by the team. It was not a nothing power play even though they did not convert. After a season full of do-next-to-nothing or do-nothing power plays, I was pleased with what I saw about this lone man advantage by the Devils.
Who Notably Did Not Do Well Tonight: Most of the penalty killers had a poor game on the penalty kill itself. Connor Carrick and Mirco Mueller ended up playing well over three minutes each and most of that was because they could not get off the ice if they wanted to. John Hayden should not be near this team’s penalty kill without a lot more practice and perhaps not even then. Kevin Rooney, who was actually quite good in limited action on the PK last season, looked poor out there. Ty Smith did not have a good night in general so I guess he received 1:40 on the PK just to see what he could do. There just was not a lot of goodness at an individual level on the PK that was not by a Devils goalie.
Smith definitely had issues and Severson seemingly had to do more to make up for it. His on-ice numbers were not bad by the end of the night. However, his miscommunication with Schneider behind the net led to a goal. He was caught in the slot and instead of trying to make a play on Andersson or fish for the puck, he was stuck in the slot for the third goal against. Smith also did not contribute much of anything on offense. For someone who needs to do well in this preseason to make the decision-makers keep in New Jersey, he did not help his cause.
Similarly, the line of Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Miles Wood just were not very good tonight. They may have had a couple of shots but they were picked on a lot by the Rangers. In 5-on-5 play, when they were on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 8-16 and out-shot 5-10. Throw in Wood’s penalty, a terrible turnover by McLeod that led to a breakaway against Schneider, and Bastian’s not-much-of-anything and it was just a rough night for this unit.
Who Notably Did Well Tonight: Schneider and Cormier were great. Pay no mind to that three in the score, the Devils’ goaltenders more than earned their money tonight. Between tonight’s game and the Boston game, I am e encouraging
Outside of the goalies, I really liked Mikhail Maltsev’s night. When he was on the ice, the Devils were enjoying the run of play. I thought he should have been used more on the penalty kill. I thought he deserved a couple of extra shifts. His goal was a great combination of knowing when to apply pressure, speed, effort, and using his long reach. But overall, he was a solid player.
I also liked how Nico Hischier performed. It was not always pretty but he played a game across the full rink. Once Nikita Gusev hit the second period, he started to be much more threatening offensively which is what the Devils needed a lot more of in general tonight. He scored and nearly scored again, so that was good. Neither were owned in the run of play and neither really made any big errors.
Among the depth players, Baddock, Hayden, and Seney were actually positive. Baddock made a legitimately great move to get around a defenseman and set up Gusev for his goal. Hayden was bad on the PK, but he helped set up Seney’s goal with his shot on net and he came up with some big blocks during the 5-on-6 siege at the end of the game. Why Hayden was on the ice defending a one-goal lead in an empty net situation, I do not know. I do know that it was not a detrimental to the cause; he helped there. Seney was quiet for the most part but he knew to crash the net on a goalie who was fumbling the puck and he was rewarded for it. All three did not really dominate play or play all that much compared to others. But that is what you want for these types of players. You want them to take some shifts here and there, not make any big errors, not put the team down in a whole, and, if you can, chip something in to be positive. These three did that.
Other Game Thoughts: I do not think Jesper Boqvist really helped his case too much but I do not think he hurt it either. It is telling that for a second straight preseason game that he was playing with Hischier and Gusev as well as receiving some time on the first power play unit. Like with Smith, pay attention to who plays with in addition to how well they play.
There were some injuries on the other side tonight. Panarin left the game in the second period with a mild groin strain. Kakko left the ice limping by the end of the game. I do not like seeing players get hurt regardless of who they play for. To that end, I hope both will be fine in the near future.
For the defense, I thought the best pairing was easily the Will Butcher and Sami Vatanen pairing. I did not really like the penalties they took but I did like how they handled issues more than, say, Carrick-Mueller. Vatanen’s shot is definitely in-season form. I did like seeing Butcher get some PK minutes as I think he could handle it well in the future. That said, this pairing got lit up by Zibanejad and Kakko in the run of play. And I find it hard to say that a defensemen pairing was actually good on a night where the team conceded 42 shots against.
Obviously, the next two games at home will be big for the Binghamton-likely players on the roster. I would expect cuts to take place after Saturday’s game and before next Wednesday’s. I would also expect those two games to help who goes where in the lineup for the B-Devils. To that end, I do hope those players will be particularly motivated on Friday and Saturday. The re-match on Friday night should be interesting.
One Last Thought: Seriously, how can you not love this goal by Maltsev?
Your Take: The Devils prevailed over the Rangers in their first of two preseason games this month. What did you think of the win? Who did well in your view? Who did not do so well in your view? What, if anything, should the Devils work on before their back-to-back set at the end of this week? Please leave your answers, your thoughts about the win, your praise for Maltsev’s stupendous goal, and other comments about the game in the comments.
Thanks to Mike for tweeting during the game with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thanks to Chris for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who followed along on Twitter and in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.