The New Jersey Devils four-game winning streak to open the 2021-22 preseason came to an end Wednesday, as the New York Rangers took advantage of an AHL-heavy Devils lineup in Madison Square Garden and won convincingly by a score of 6-2.
The Rangers got on the scoreboard quickly in this one, as K’Andre Miller fed the puck cross ice towards Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. Andreas Johnsson got a piece of it, but not enough to keep it away from Fox along the boards, who shuffled the pass in front for a clean look for Mika Zibanejad and a 1-0 Rangers lead. It was an elite play by elite players and the type of tic-tac-toe play the Devils need to do a better job of shoring up defensively going forward.
The run of play completely shifted towards the Devils after that early Rangers goal. Jesper Bratt had a good look that went off the post, and the Devils top line of Johnsson-Zacha-Bratt pinned the Rangers back, but the Devils couldn’t find the equalizing goal. Marian Studenic had a couple good looks in front but couldn’t put it past Igor Shesterkin, who played brilliantly for the Rangers. The Devils played well in the period and controlled the run of play despite the massive difference in talent between the two rosters. They finished the first period with a 69.23% CF as a team and an edge in xG 0.91 to 0.39.
Rangers forward Ryan Reaves suffered a gruesome-looking left leg injury midway through the first period after an awkward collision in the corner with PK Subban. It didn’t look good as Subban immediately called for the trainer and Reaves was unable to put weight on his leg as he was helped to the back. The Rangers quickly ruled him out for the rest of the game, although fortunately for Reaves he may have dodged a serious injury. Chris Kreider and the rest of the Rangers took exception with Subban for what they believed was a slew foot and went for their pound of flesh. They hit him high, hit him early, and hit him often and didn’t really elicit a reaction until Jarred Tinordi tried to get under his skin late in the first period. Cooler heads would not prevail during the first intermission, as Kreider made a beesline for Subban immediately after the opening draw. Kreider dropped the gloves and wanted to go then and there. Subban laughed in his face. Kreider got 2 minutes for roughing and a 10 minute misconduct and Subban got 2 minutes for “unsportsmanlike conduct”.
Our Hated Rivals came out strong, played with a different energy and dominated the run of play for most of the rest of the game. They added to their lead four minutes into the second period as Michael McLeod lost an edge at the Rangers blue line and turned the puck over to Kappo Kakko. The former #2 overall pick in 2019 corralled the loose puck, sped past Subban, and buried the puck past Jonathan Bernier for a 2-0 lead. The Rangers kept the momentum going as Mark Jankowski and AJ Greer took back-to-back penalties. Adam Fox took advantage on the 5-on-3 power play, finding Zibanejad in the lower left circle and the Devil killers essentially put the game out of reach at 3-0.
The Devils finally got on the board at the 9:57 mark of the second period. Pavel Zacha dug the puck out of the corner and dished it off to Bratt, who made a nice pass to Johnsson in front for a wide-open tap in past Shesterkin.
The Devils failed to build on this momentum though, and the Rangers continued to pour it on. Sammy Blais came off the bench and intercepted a bad Marian Studenic breakout pass. Blais made his move, drew a hook, and slid the puck past Bernier for the 4-1 lead. New York would continue to pour it on as Barclay Goodrow buried a juicy rebound off of Bernier’s pads 20 seconds later to take a 5-1 lead. For as well as the Devils played in the first, they played just as poorly in the second, and things didn’t get much better in the third.
Subban had finally had enough of all the extra attention, going after Kreider to start the third period and drawing fighting penalties, even though it was more of a MMA-style takedown and no punches were actually thrown. Midway through the third, Subban came off the bench after a TV timeout and said whatever the magic words were for an early trip to the showers, as he and Barclay Goodrow were hit for a 10 minute misconduct. Subban gave his side of what happened on the Reaves play after the game.
“Things happen on the ice, it’s obviously an accident. I’ve been in the league a long time, I don’t go out there to try an injure anyone. I try to play fair.”— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) October 7, 2021
Hear from PK after tonight’s game. #NJDevils | @InvestorsBank pic.twitter.com/fvBTSkQ8nV
Later in the third, Studenic made up for his giveaway earlier. Mark Jankowski did a nice job recovering the puck off of a Rangers turnover in the defensive zone. He found Studenic by the top of the circle, who fired the puck off of Shesterkin’s pads. The puck bounced around and landed back on Studenic’s stick and he buried the rebound to cut the deficit to 5-2.
The goodwill off of that goal was short-lived. McLeod lost the puck behind the net, leading to Ryan Strome finding Artemi Panarin for another Rangers goal 19 seconds later to make it 6-2. The Rangers would go on to win by that score and send Rangers fans home happy.
All-in-all, the Devils did some positive things in this game, but giveaways and shaky defensive play gave them no chance to win with a depleted lineup. The Devils players will have one final opportunity Thursday night to make an impression as they wrap up the preseason at the Prudential Center against the Islanders.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Blueshirt Banter for the Rangers perspective of this game.
Who played well for the Devils
When PK Subban wasn’t busy drawing the ire of the Rangers, he played a solid game. He and partner Jonas Siegenthaler continued their solid play in the preseason and were two of the few Devils to finish above 50% CF%. Considering the Rangers played just about all of their regulars and the Devils did not, its a positive sign that that pairing can hold up well in a third-pairing role in the regular season. Siegenthaler wound up leading all skaters in ice time.
I also thought the Johnsson-Zacha-Bratt line played well, although they fell victim to the Rangers offensive onslaught from the second period on. Zacha and Bratt made some sharp passes and created some opportunities out of nothing. I still believe Zacha is better suited at wing long-term, but it was good to see the chemistry is still there with the two of them. I’d like to see Bratt get a little stronger on the puck and improve his shot so he can finish some of these golden chances he creates.
Give credit to Johnsson as well, who has had his struggles in a Devils uniform. I know his goal was essentially a layup, but you still have to bury those opportunities when they present themselves. I’m still not sure where Johnsson fits with this team long-term, but it was good to see him get on the scoresheet.
Mixed bag for Studenic
Marian Studenic is in the mix for one of the final roster spots on the Devils. He did a lot of good things tonight, leading the Devils with 5 shots on goal and scoring in the third period. He also did a really bad thing with his giveaway in the second period to Sammy Blais that directly led to a goal against.
I think the positive we’ve seen from Studenic in the preseason outweighs the negative, but I don’t know that he’s done enough to separate himself from the other forwards competing for those final roster spots, and his pass on the Blais goal is the type of play that coaches can’t stand. It’s the type of play that gets a young player into the doghouse or sent back to the minor leagues. I hope for Studenic’s sake that he can overcome it.
A night to forget for McLeod
Michael McLeod had two particularly awful giveaways that led directly to a goal against. He lost an edge in the second period, leading to a Kappo Kakko breakaway to go up 2-0. In the third, he turned the puck over behind the net, leading to Ryan Strome finding Artemi Panarin to make it 6-2 and take away any momentum the Devils were building in the third period after the Studenic goal.
I believe McLeod will be fine, but considering how much the Devils lean on McLeod defensively, it was a rough day at the office.
What’s the point of Geersten?
Mason Geersten, in theory, was brought in for situations like tonight. He was brought in to be a tough guy and an enforcer to keep the other team in line. That said, he didn’t really do a whole lot to keep the Rangers in check until midway through the third period when he finally got involved in the fracas and cross-checked Ryan Lindgren.
I don’t really expect Geersten to fight every Rangers player who made a run at Subban in the aftermath of the Reaves injury, but we all watched the game and saw where it was going with emotions running high and the Rangers going after Subban. It raises the question of why exactly Geersten is in the lineup and what the Devils are gaining from his presence if he’s only getting involved in the third period well after the game is decided. I don’t think the Devils win the game if they played a different forward instead, but I would’ve rather evaluated someone else if that’s what we’re going to get from our enforcer.
The Devils played hard in the first period and did a lot of positive things given the circumstances, but they were thoroughly outclassed in the second and third period and they earned this 6-2 loss. It wasn’t all negative though, as the Siegenthaler-Subban pairing played well and the top line of Johnsson-Zacha-Bratt had their moments.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Who stood out to you, positively and negatively, for the Devils? What did you make of the chippiness in tonight’s game? Please feel free to leave a comment below and thank you for reading.