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Derailed By Special Teams, Devils Pitiful in 6-1 Blowout Loss to Rangers

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After getting out to an early lead, the Devils turned in terrible defensive performances in the second and third periods as they turned the puck over too many times for the goalies to handle.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils
Beginning of the end.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

First Period

The new first line of Wood-Zacha-Palmieri started the game, and had a very short shift in which they got off the ice for Zajac’s line within 30 seconds. The teams had no shots in the first minute, but the Rangers iced the puck 65 seconds into the game. However, Jack Hughes lost the faceoff and the Devils had to regain the zone after the Rangers cleared the puck. Janne Kuokkanen set Hughes up, cutting into the slot, where he banged a shot off the low post.

Jack Hughes made good on the second prime chance he got during the period. Sami Vatanen tried to make a stretch pass to the far blue line, which was deflected off the end boards. It came out to Hughes, who shot it immediately past Igor Shesterkin just inside the left post. 1-0, Devils.

Dmitry Kulikov rang a shot off the post right off a faceoff just past halfway through the period. The shot beat Shesterkin cleanly under his blocker. The Devils iced the puck later in the shift and did not get back into the offensive zone until a little over a minute after.

Kyle Palmieri showed his first burst of the game, getting a puck at the Devils’ blueline that bounced off Pavel Zacha’s back. Palmieri zipped into the zone and went wide for a wrist shot, forcing Shesterkin to make a glove save. On the following shift, Yegor Sharangovich also forced Shesterkin to make a glove save, as Janne Kuokkanen flipped a pass past a defender on the rush, and Sharangovich tried to raise a puck that almost got away from him. Pavel Zacha joined the chances parade half a minute later as he received a stretch pass at the Rangers’ blueline. He was forced wide by the defender, and his backhand was followed nicely by Shesterkin, who smothered it.

Miles Wood was taken down shortly following a faceoff by Filip Chytil. Chytil was called for interference, and the Devils went to the powerplay. Zajac, Johnsson, Hughes, Severson, and Subban took the ice. They failed to get anything going at first, as the Rangers were all over the puck in the first 30 seconds. P.K. Subban, after a re-entry, set Andreas Johnsson on the goal line. Johnsson cut to the net and tried to drive it through Shesterkin, but Shesterkin fell on the puck and froze play. With the second unit on, Kyle Palmieri’s pass to the point was intercepted and MacKenzie Blackwood had to play the puck for the Devils. Then, Miles Wood missed Ty Smith with a pass in the offensive zone, and the Devils needed to re-enter again. With Zajac’s even strength line on the ice, the Devils failed to get the puck out of the corner and did not get another shot. Sami Vatanen was tripped on the rush at even strength in an odd-man opportunity, but no call was made. After an entry, Sami Vatanen played the puck to the net, which was nearly buried by Janne Kuokkanen in front of the net. He had a couple whacks at it, but could not score.

At the end of one period, the Devils had the lead while beating the Rangers in shots 14-6.

Second Period

The Devils iced the puck 20 seconds into the period after the Rangers gave them trouble on the forecheck. At the end of his shift, Kyle Palmieri took the puck all the way to the net and cut in front of Shesterkin for a shot, giving the Devils some offensive zone time. Jack Hughes’ line did pretty well cycling the puck on their shift, but did not connect for any scoring chances. At the end of their shift, the Devils iced the puck past the two minute mark of the period.

P.K. Subban had a chance to score about five minutes in, as he intercepted an exit pass from the Rangers and played it to Andreas Johnsson, who skated toward the net. Subban followed to his right, and got the pass back for a shot from the faceoff circle that was gloved by Shesterkin. Subban made a great defensive play, evaded the oncoming Rangers, and got a scoring chance out of it.

Miles Wood was set up by Pavel Zacha on the rush a minute and a half later on the rush, and Wood was all alone with Shesterkin, who made the save. The Devils kept the zone, and Pavel Zacha was set up for a one-timer that was blocked. A puck then made its way to Palmieri in the slot, and his shot was deflected high off the glass. However, at the end of their shift, Palmieri took a minor penalty for slashing as the Devils got stuck in their defensive zone.

Even on the power play, Mika Zibanejad did not see the ice for the Rangers - as he had gone over eight minutes of not seeing the ice in the second period. However, the Rangers would not need them. The Devils cleared the puck early, but could not defend on the rush. Ryan Strome set Chris Kreider up for a redirection in front of MacKenzie Blackwood. 1-1 - and another preventable failure by the penalty kill.

Kyle Palmieri lost the puck in the defensive zone along the boards, and the Rangers got two shot attempts right off the turnover. The first went wide off the end boards to Ryan Lindgren on the other side of the net. His shot was deflected by Chris Kreider for his second goal of the game. 2-1, Rangers, with six minutes to play in the period.

After Dmitry Kulikov laid a huge hit on Mika Zibanejad, finally on the ice, that made Zibanejad get up slowly - the Rangers started to go after the Devils on an offensive zone shift. Jack Hughes was hit very late, but no call was made. Then, Janne Kuokkanen flipped a puck from his backhand at the blueline to Shesterkin, where Yegor Sharangovich won it right in front of goal and jammed away at it. He was cross-checked from behind - and that was called.

With a new choice of first unit of Zacha, Kuokkanen, Palmieri, Wood, and Smith. the Devils got some good movement early but did not make use of it. Kyle Palmieri was then set up on the rush by Miles Wood after a clear, and his redirection was saved. The Devils then sent out their Zajac-Hughes unit, who lost the puck early after a couple of their passes missed. They recollected for a breakout, and they were denied soon after regaining the zone. Andreas Johnsson then lost the zone again with a bad pass to the point. Another waste of two minutes - and too much time for that two-defenseman unit with Hughes again.

P.K. Subban was hurt after a draw, as he was hit from behind into the boards by Brendan Lemieux. He went down to the ice, holding his leg, before play was stopped and he had to leave the ice. He was checked by the trainer on the bench. The Devils and Rangers did not get anything going after play resumed, and the second intermission began with the score still at 2-1, while the Devils led in shots 23-12.

Third Period

The Rangers struck very quickly in the third period, as Chris Kreider completed a hat trick 23 seconds in. The Devils turned the puck over in their own zone, and Chytil played it to Kreider, who zipped the puck past Blackwood. 3-1, Rangers.

On the other end, Jack Hughes got behind K’Andre Miller and the Rangers and tried to go five hole, failing to get the puck in the space Shesterkin left under his right pad. Yegor Sharangovich jammed away at the rebound, but Shesterkin covered it.

Alexis Lafreniere furthered the divide between the two teams less than four minutes into the period, as he beat Will Butcher’s weak excuse for rush defense with a pass across to Pavel Buchnevich, who scored on Blackwood. Blackwood was then pulled for Aaron Dell, as the Rangers were up 4-1.

Yegor Sharangovich and Mikhail Maltsev had an odd-man rush with 13 minutes to play, but Maltsev was taken down and the Devils went to the power play. Ryan Lindgren went to the box for hooking. On the power play, Jack Hughes’ over-handling of the puck led to the Devils committing multiple turnovers in the first minute and failing to get a shot until Pavel Zacha got one on the second unit 89 seconds into the power play. They did not get another.

The Devils drew another penalty with nine and a half minutes to play, as Sami Vatanen was hit high and late by Brendan Lemieux. The Devils lost the draw, and Ty Smith started the breakout. In the offensive zone, the Devils kept taking shots from up high. Smith, Hughes, and Subban took the shots, but the Rangers kept blocking them. Will Butcher got a shot attmept late from the point that Shesterkin actually had to save, as Janne Kuokkanen deflected it down in the slot.

Just as the Devils started to get more chances, Michael McLeod took a penalty for goaltender interference. He skated through the crease as Shesterkin stuck out his leg, and they both went down. On the penalty kill, the Devils had a prime chance, as Jesper Bratt set Damon Severson up for a one-timer on a counterattack rush. As Shesterkin came across, Severson missed high, and Shesterkin hurt himself skating across the goal. Shesterkin could not get himself up on his own power, and had to be skated off by Pavel Buchnevich and Phil DiGiuseppe.

Alex Georgiev came into the game with the Rangers on the power play. The Rangers could not get anything going against the penalty kill, but once play returned to even strength, Aaron Dell lost sight of the puck as a rebound got out to Brendan Smith. He was screened by Yegor Sharangovich, and was on the wrong side of the net to stop Smith’s shot. 5-1.

With the Devils now being blown out, Lindy Ruff did not bother pulling the goaltender. Alexis Lafreniere sniped one past Aaron Dell off another stupid defensive-zone pass - this time by Sami Vatanen - that was turned over. Lafreniere gave Dell no chance from the faceoff circle - 6-1.

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

The Opposition Opinion: Blueshirt Banter will have the happier recap, injuries aside.

I don’t think it’s worth talking about the team’s five-on-five play too much tonight. The Devils won the shots battle. They won the opportunities battle - but they allowed Shesterkin to be square to the shot on too many of those opportunities. They had no finish, and if not for a lucky bounce they probably would have been shutout. And in the second period, when they were getting chances left and right, the Devils failed to execute a line change before play was turned the other way, and Kyle Palmieri took a penalty. And we know how that went. But to be sure - let’s go over what used to be one of the Devils’ strongest areas of the game.

The Penalty Kill

Before Kyle Palmieri took the first penalty for the Devils tonight, they were looking very good and controlled the run of play at even strength. After an early clear in that penalty kill, the Devils forgot to play defense and allowed an easy redirection opportunity on the rush for Chris Kreider. Once Kreider scored that goal, the Rangers controlled the game. They didn’t get back on the power play until late in the third - by which point the lead was already about insurmountable for the Devils. However, the Devils having to play on the penalty kill once managed to completely derail their second period - as they barely registered any dangerous chances after the fact.

At 35 for 56, the penalty kill is operating at a 62.5% success rate. Is Alain Nasreddine proud of the work he’s done this season?

The Power Play

Even with its intensely bad performance this season, the penalty kill only looked half as bad as the Devils power play today. With four power plays, the Devils only managed four shots. For all of their opportunities and their skaters’ abilities to cycle the puck at even strength, this team is incapable of running a functioning power play. For some reason, their idea of a set-up is to have Jack Hughes get the puck on the wall and skate back and forth before he sends a pass to nobody in particular - or he gets hounded and has to cough up the puck to the point - and whoever is working there usually has no time to redistribute the puck cleanly.

Two things are not working for the New Jersey Devils power play. First and foremost is running two defensemen on the first unit - which is a deployment that has been all but abandoned by every good power play in the league. Second, the team passes slowly and works for shots high in the zone - which are almost always blocked when the team passes as slowly as they did tonight. The defense is not moved out of position, and the Devils do not get in good enough position for deflections. This power play is pathetic, despite Jesper Bratt sitting on the bench while Jack Hughes, Pavel Zacha, Kyle Palmieri, and Andreas Johnsson are split between two dysfunctional, mismatched units. Why not load one of the power play units so at least that one can work? This team gets stuck running through Jack Hughes by himself on one unit, and then only leaves a bit of time for the second unit - which usually generates shots quicker with only one defenseman.

At eight for 58, the power play is functioning at a 13.8% success rate. Is Mark Recchi proud of the work he’s done this season?

No Goaltending, Now

The Devils got wins early this season on the back of their five-on-five play, during which MacKenzie Blackwood and Scott Wedgewood were extremely stingy and managed to keep a lot of scoring chances at bay. They performed much worse at special teams - usually causing the losses early in the season. While the penalty kill began the Devils’ downfall tonight, even strength turnovers and an utter lack of goaltending luck completed it. Since the COVID outbreak, Blackwood and Aaron Dell have not been able to bail the Devils out enough to keep them in games. Maybe it’s just a statistical correction - but it was extremely ugly to watch tonight. The Devils gave up six goals on just 19 shots against - they nearly outshot the Rangers two-to-one. But the Devils broke down when they could not afford to, and turned the puck over time after time as the Rangers picked them apart at every opportunity they got.

Some spark he got out of that. After Blackwood allowed four goals on 15 shots, Dell allowed two goals on four shots. Maybe Scott Wedgewood draws back in next game - these two have not been feeling it often enough lately.

Shesterkin

Of course, this game might have been a different story if not for Igor Shesterkin, who saved 32 of 33 shots prior to leaving due to injury. If the Devils scored a couple goals in the first, they might have had more fight in them in the second period after they went on the penalty kill. But they did not score even twice - and the Rangers had plenty of scoring chances themselves. Blackwood, unlike Shesterkin, could not stop those from going in. On the play Shesterkin was injured, I was worried that Damon Severson had clipped him high after the shot attempt. The replay, which showed it was a non-contact injury, did not make it any easier to look at. Hopefully it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Your Thoughts

How did you feel watching tonight’s game? Was it sickening? How do you feel about Alain Nasreddine and Mark Recchi right now? Do they deserve to keep their jobs? How did you feel about the new lines winning the possession and scoring chance battle only for the defense to make pathetic turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones, allowing the Rangers to rain goals on Blackwood and Dell? Has this team really looked any better with Butcher in place of Murray and Vatanen in place of Tennyson? Do Damon Severson and Ty Smith need to re-learn how to pass on the breakout and fight off a forecheck? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Whether you suffered through this along with us in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.