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Devils Jump Out to Early Lead and Survive Late Rangers Siege, Winning 4-3

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MacKenzie Blackwood and Jack Hughes led the way as the Devils beat the Rangers, continuing their positive start to the season.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers
There’s a winner right there.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

First Period

The Devils’ third line took no time at all to get on the board, as Miles Wood got a stretch pass at the Rangers blue line about 25 seconds in, and shot on Georgiev. Wood was steered away from the rebound, but Travis Zajac took a swipe at the puck, which went past Georgiev on the far side of the net. 1-0 Devils. P.K. Subban picked up the secondary assist on the long pass to Miles Wood.

Just after the goal, Chris Kreider took a tripping call on Yegor Sharangovich, and the Devils went to the power play. Mika Zibanejad tried to make something happen shorthanded on a long pass, but was defended well but Jack Hughes. The Devils did not get much going for the first minute of the power play, and changed units about 50 seconds in. Ty Smith made a pass into the slot on Johnsson’s tape, but Johnsson was in tight coverage and lost the puck. The Rangers got two successive clears afterwards. Michael McLeod almost made a great play with a pass across Georgiev for Nathan Bastian after the penalty expired, but the shot was saved.

Damon Severson lost the puck and fell at the blueline several minutes into the first period, and the Rangers nearly had a breakaway. However, the speed of Yegor Sharangovich on the backcheck, as well as a good recovery by Dmitry Kulikov averted the danger. A couple minutes later, Mchael McLeod redirected a pass from Janne Kuokkanen toward Georgiev, but Georgiev was well-positioned for the stop as the shot was pretty soft.

Pavel Zacha had a chance off a turnover to put a good shot on goal from the faceoff circle with about nine minutes left in the period. Andreas Johnsson retrieved the rebound, and instead of centering a pass, Johnsson hit the puck off the side of the net and the Devils shortly thereafter lost possession.

The Rangers had a sustained attack against the Devils with about six minutes left to play, but never really threatened MacKenzie Blackwood. The Devils pressured heavily when the puck reached the slot, and got in front of several shots. The Rangers were forced the the outside and the blueline, and were unable to get any redirections on their shots - and Jack Johnson failed to get any of his multiple attempts on net. Yegor Sharangovich was the one who ultimately broke the Rangers’ possession and allowed the Devils to fully change lines.

Second Period

The Zajac line started yet again, and were able to enter quickly. Ryan Murray got a one-timer attempt off, but further shot attempts from P.K. Subban did not get on goal. Afterwards, the Hughes line came onto the ice, and they got locked into a battle along the corner boards for the puck in their defensive zone before the puck was sent out to the far side for a shot from the point, which was frozen by Blackwood.

The Rangers got a good chance on MacKenzie Blackwood against the Devils’ fourth line, and there was a scrum in the crease after play got too close to Blackwood. Michael McLeod went to the box for roughing and the Devils went to the penalty kill. It was a rather weak call for a scrum in the crease - it should have been four-on-four or nothing. Of course, the Rangers scored early in the power play, as MacKenzie Blackwood allowed the puck to go through his five hole as Chris Kreider passed the puck off Ryan Murray’s skate. 1-1. Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox were credited with assists, but it was an own goal off Murray.

However, Jack Hughes would not allow the game to be tied for very long. After being kicked out of the faceoff circle, Yegor Sharangovich won the puck back to Ty Smith, who shot through a screen and hit the post. Hughes sped through the crease and batted the puck off his backhand into the net. 2-1, Devils - and Smith with his third point in three games along with Hughes’ first goal of the season.

P.K. Subban took a penalty for holding Chris Kreider behind the Devils net shortly after Hughes’ goal, and the Devils returned to the penalty kill. Subban had weak positioning and his skating was of no use on the play. Pavel Zacha had the puck behind Georgiev early on, but the Rangers coverged on him and forced the puck back down the ice. Chris Kreider rang a shot off the post from the slot, and the Rangers sustained a long attack in the second minute of the power play until Kyle Palmieri won the puck on the boards and cleared with 20 seconds left in the kill.

At the end of the kill, Matt Tennyson knocked Brett Howden away from a long pass and was not called for a penalty. Shortly after, Jack Hughes blocked a shot from Jacob Trouba and created a breakaway for himself. He had Miles Wood and a Rangers defenseman trailing, and he went five hole on an excellent move on Georgiev. 3-1, Devils - Hughes unassisted.

Pavel Zacha and Nikita Gusev had a good thing going just after the halfway point of the game, as they got the puck deep in the offensive zone. Zacha had the puck on the goal line and set Gusev up for a one-timer - but Georgiev was able to stop his shot. Andreas Johnsson was kind of a non-factor on their set-up, and he looks like the weak link of the line right now.

Damon Severson went off for tripping Filip Chytil right after MacKenzie Blackwood kicked the puck behind the net with his pad. It was a pretty bad penalty, and the Devils were not looking good on the previous kills. Nonetheless, Ryan Murray got a quick clear off the draw. The Rangers were playing without much pressure once they got back into the zone, and Mika Zibanejad got a one-timer to the right of Blackwood that floated above his shoulder. 3-2, still a Devils lead - and two power play goals for the Rangers.

Just as I was about to complain about the Rangers not being called for taking down Kyle Palmieri, the referee raised his arm a little late - and called the penalty for high sticking Jack Hughes. The Devils went the power play. Jack Hughes made an absolutely beautiful pass across Georgiev to Miles Wood early in the power play, and Wood put it into the net. Georgiev was completely fooled on the fake shot, and the puck went off of Wood’s stick, his skate, and then into the net. It could have been reviewed for a kicking motion, but I guess they did not see the puck hit the skate - or they regarded his skate movement as the natural motion from Wood’s shot attempt. Either way, it was 4-2 Devils, and Miles Wood had three goals in three games. Kyle Palmieri got the secondary assist on a tight pass from the slot to Hughes.

Jack Hughes set up another goal just minutes later, as Hughes went around the net with the puck and passed to P.K. Subban at the top of the zone. Subban quickly shot, and it went through the screen of Kyle Palmieri and past Georgiev. However, the Rangers challenged the play for offsides. Ryan Lindgren pushed the puck off Palmieri’s stick as he entered the zone, and his feet were a bit ahead of the puck. The referees, however, took a lot of time to make a ruling on the offsides, and ruled in favor of the Rangers. Still 4-2, Devils. I guess they could have lost Wood’s goal too - and that one was prettier anyway.

Third Period

Igor Shesterkin replaced Georgiev to start the period. Nothing else notable happened in the first minute of the third period, as Jack Hughes’ line got one shot on goal before Shesterkin covered the puck, and the Rangers turned play the other way after the faceoff.

Jesper Boqvist made a great play in the neutral zone to cut off a Rangers exit pass, and Travis Zajac gave it to P.K. Subban, who tried to backhand it back to Boqvist - but the pass was way off. Subban continues to not look very good when joining the offense. Play was stopped four minutes into the period, as the Devils took a too many men on the ice call - and they were not even near the bench. Jack Hughes served the bench minor. Ryan Murray broke his stick early in the kill, and Zacha gave him his stick - and Zajac quickly redirected the puck out of the zone. After re-entering, Blackwood made a quick glove save on a high Kreider shot.

In the second minute of the penalty kill, Artemi Panarin sent a pass too far for Adam Fox, and the Rangers lost a good opportunity with space for Fox to work with. The Rangers lost the puck on a bad pass late in the kill, and as Hughes came out of the box he set up Michael McLeod. McLeod led Bastian on a two-on-one, and the pass across was sent by Bastian right into Shesterkin.

The Rangers scored on a loose puck in front of MacKenzie Blackwood seven minutes into the period. Filip Chytil knocked it high past Blackwood as Ty Smith was in a bad position to divert a rebound that Blackwood kicked out. 4-3, Devils. Di Guiseppe and Buchnevich had the assists.

Brendan Lemieux was in alone on MacKenzie Blackwood, and Blackwood had to stretch out his pads wide to stop him. However, Ty Smith took a penalty for holding and the Devils went back to the box. Fox’s shot at the start of the kill was frozen by Blackwood. Travis Zajac got the puck out of the zone after the faceoff, and Damon Severson sent the puck behind Shesterkin’s net. Mika Zibanejad, back in their offensive zone, sent a shot off Blackwood’s mask and out of play. McLeod won the faceoff, but Severson misplayed it and allowed Kreider to get the puck. The Rangers were able to sustain possession for much of the rest of the penalty, only having to regain the zone from center ice twice. At the end of the kill, Panarin ripped off a shot that went over the net and out of play. The Devils survived, momentarily.

The Rangers got away with an interference in their offensive zone as Chytil took Subban down from behind while they chased a puck away in the corner. The McLeod line continually just pushed the Rangers out of their offensive zone, but eventually iced the puck after Sharangovich and Palmieri replaced Kuokkanen and Bastian. The Rangers took advantage of the weak defense from the tired McLeod, who only changed after a soft clear to the neutral zone. The Rangers quickly got back to the attack, and the Devils only survived due to Blackwood’s play.

Jack Hughes was able to create an offensive zone shift for the Devils, but the Devils took a penalty with three and a half minutes to play - as Bastian took a hooking call. It’s a very annoying penalty to take when the referees looked the other way on Chytil some minutes before, but the Blackwood would be further tested by the referees and the Devils’ lack of discipline. After a Panarin shot was saved, Pavel Zacha got the puck all the way down the ice. After a re-entry, Zacha cleared again. In the second minute of the penalty kill, Blackwood made a couple saves and Kyle Palmieri failed to clear the puck. A Toruba shot was blocked, and the penalty expired. Nathan Bastian nearly scored on the empty net after clearing the puck out of the box, and the Devils were defending six-on-five. Travis Zajac got the puck out of the defensive zone, and Wood nearly scored from center ice. The Rangers re-entered, and Subban missed the net on a full-ice shot. Frankly, I would have preferred a high, softer clear of the puck. With 11.8 seconds to play, the Rangers called timeout. Nasreddine spoke to the Devils line of Zajac, Wood, and Zacha with Subban and Murray. Zajac won the draw, and Subban cleared the puck off the glass. Before the Rangers could re-enter and shoot, time expired. The Devils win, 4-3.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

60 Minute Game

As we all know, hockey is a 60-minute game, and the Devils in some recent years have been pretty bad at holding onto leads. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they get pinned in their own zone while up a couple goals, and have bad results at times due to their conservatism in the defensive zone. Tonight, this phenomenon was playing out in addition to the run of bad discipline that the Devils had in the second and third periods. From Evolving Hockey, here’s a cumulative corsi graph in all situations.

Evolving Hockey

In the third period, the Devils recovered nicely after the collective too many on the ice penalty - but Ty Smith’s holding call really set them back. The Rangers were buzzing on their power play, and the Devils were completely helpless for the rest of the game. Nathan Bastian nearly scored after coming out of the box on his penalty, and the Devils did better defending six-on-five than they were on the penalty kill or at even strength in the last few minutes. Michael McLeod was also stuck on the ice for a couple minutes in the third period, also kept on by an icing - and the Devils need to do a better job at getting their lines on and off with efficiency, especially as the game goes on.

The Penalty Kill Problem

Alain Nasreddine, as he has for the past few seasons, is running the penalty kill right now. While I am not yet saying the team should be considering their options at that post, this is a short season and the Devils nearly lost this game due to their penalty kill. Last season, the Devils only allowed 39 power play goals against on 221 opportunities against. So, despite taking 13 more penalties than average, the Devils gave up 3 fewer goals than the NHL average. This year, the penalty kill looks somewhat lost without Andy Greene, as they have already allowed four goals on 13 opportunities against. We will see how they look in another week or so - but a PK percentage under 70% is nothing to be proud of.

Second Line Issues

This is complicated by the issues regarding Jesper Bratt’s work visa and Nico Hischier’s leg injury, but the Johnsson-Zacha-Gusev line has not been good. Watching them tonight, I saw Pavel Zacha as the most active with the puck - which is not a statement I’d expect to make given how much he deferred to his wingers in previous years. The second line received the fewest minutes tonight (so I guess they aren’t much of a second line right now), as none of them broke the nine-minute mark at even strength play. However, Zacha played over 14 minutes when accounting for special teams, while Johnsson logged 8:37 total and Gusev was at 9:43. Zacha had two shots on goal, while Gusev only had one shot and Johnsson had zero. Zacha was also much more involved defensively, with two blocked shots and a few clears in the late third period penalty kills. Gusev was also not able to create a shot for himself - it was off of a good set up from the goal line from Zacha. This is a bit of a pre-emptive argument that Zacha should not be punished for the poor play of his line, as Johnsson showed absolutely nothing tonight and Gusev was mostly invisible except for that sequence a minute before Severson took his penalty in the second period. While Zacha was fourth on the team in even strength individual expected goals according to Natural Stat Trick, Gusev put up a paltry 0.03 and Johnsson was at 0.00. It was not Zacha tonight.

Defensive Deployment

While P.K. Subban led the team in ice time the first two games of the year, it was Damon Severson that led tonight with 26:15. His pairing with Kulikov, however, was extremely ineffectual and I question their ability to survive against opposing top six lines. Tonight, Severson could only muster a 14.29 CF% against the Zibanejad-Panarin line, and I think it’s time to rethink these defensive pairings. Murray needs a more versatile offensive player to his right than P.K. Subban, and Subban needs to stop playing offense. I think Lindy Ruff should consider pairing Severson with Murray and Smith with Subban. Smith only played 12:33, as Ruff rightly does not want to see Tennyson on the ice in addition to his lack of belief that Smith can handle opposing top competition. Let Subban handle Tennyson’s role of not straying far from Blackwood’s net - we saw him and Smith too low to handle the rebound when Chytil scored - and let Kulikov play lesser competition and eventually get paired with Sami Vatanen.

Good Starts

  • Jack Hughes - Our most recent first overall pick is off to an excellent start this year, with now two goals and four assists in three games. Coming into the year, I said Jack Hughes is our x-factor. Now, the Devils are 2-0-1, and Jack Hughes is manning the ship while Nico Hischier is out with his injury. While Hughes only played 15:22 tonight, this can be attributed to how often the Devils were on the penalty kill. I am excited to see how he builds on this game on Thursday against the Islanders.
  • Miles Wood - If Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt were playing, I was expected Miles Wood to be one of the odd men out of the lineup. However, he is really going for it this year - and in a good way. He picked up his first assist of the year in the first period, and made it a three-game goal streak to start the season with his power play goal. He might not be able to sustain a 30% shot percentage, but he looks much more comfortable than usual with his offensive zone play right now.
  • MacKenzie Blackwood - 47 saves on 50 shots tonight makes him 109 for 115 this season - with only one goal allowed at even strength. His .947 save percentage has made the difference along with Jack Hughes and Miles Wood. However, I wonder if Ruff thinks Thursday is a good time to get him some rest as he had a lot of work to deal with tonight.
  • Ty Smith - He might be playing a limited role, but Smith made it three points in three games tonight. He was slightly out of position on the Chytil goal, but his shooting mentality in the offensive zone and well-placed shots have continued to make things happen for the Devils.

One Last Thought

And while he didn’t get anything on the scoresheet tonight, I thought Jesper Boqvist played an active game tonight. He had a few takeaways, and was able to break up a Rangers breakout. If not for P.K. Subban joining the rush and failing to make a good pass, Boqvist may have had a good scoring chance as a result of his defensive work. Lindy Ruff did not help him create offense tonight, as he only gave the Zajac line one offensive zone faceoff to nine defensive zone and seven neutral zone faceoffs. Zajac does play an important role by taking these situations, but Boqvist is a young skill player and I think he needs to be put in more offensive situations. I saw him able to sustain possession tonight by interrupting the Rangers’ transition play - so let him forecheck from time to time and see if he can create more turnovers.

Your Thoughts

What did you think about tonight’s game? Were you happy to see the Devils beat the Rangers? How happy? Who did you feel played the best game tonight? How did you feel about the offsides challenge? How much time did you spend looking for Alexis Lafreniere tonight? Did you find him? How much were the Rangers hurt by Jack Johnson taking a sizeable portion of their point shot attempts? Do you think Scott Wedgewood should start next game? How do you feel about the lines and pairings after tonight’s game? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks to Devin for the preview today. Whether you followed in the gamethread or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading and have a goodnight.