Regardless of the season, the stakes, and the situation, the People Who Matter always want to see the New Jersey Devils beat Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. They have played each other in over 240 regular season games. They have had many games where one team was up and one was down, both were up, and both were down. There have been early season games, mid-season games, and late-season games. There is never a bad time for the Devils to beat the Rangers. Especially since the Devils beat them just one time in their last ten meetings. Fortunately, that run of futility did not continue as the Devils added another win to their astounding November record. The Devils held on to prevail over the Rangers, 5-3, to end the month at 13-1-0 and make it ten straight wins on the road.
If you are not a fan of the phrase “hold on,” then might I suggest “comeback to prevail?” The Devils had a horrid start to this game. An early 2-on-1 counter-attack from Filip Chytil to Artemi Panarin made it 0-1 just eighty seconds into the game. Shortly thereafter, Jacob “Elbows” Trouba hurled a long shot into traffic in front. Chris Kreider got a piece. Mika Zibanejad beat Vitek Vanecek in close to make it 0-2 just over three minutes into the game. It was looking grim.
But there was a lot of hockey to play. The Nico Hischier line got going initially. After Igor Shesterkin denied Hischier twice, a rush up ice from the trio would hit home. Jesper Bratt found Tomas Tatar open going down the left side (Shesterkin’s left). While Hischier got behind the defense in the middle, Tatar launched a blooper of a backhander towards the net. It fooled Shesterkin, who was probably expecting a pass to the middle, and so Tatar made it 1-2. The Devils were starting to roll and they continued to do so throughout the first period. A great steal by Jesper Boqvist in the Rangers’ zone led to a Dougie Hamilton pinch which led to Yegor Sharangovich collecting a loose puck. The Belarussian turned and ripped a shot past Shesterkin to tie up the game, 2-2. The Devils risked losing that tie when Vanecek backhanded slapped Vincent Trocheck with his glove. But the Devils killed the call and the Devils went into the first period tied at two. A fine result given the early hole the Rangers dug for the Devils.
It looked like something like that was going to happen again in the second period. The Rangers came out hard to try to break the tie. Vanecek and the defense held on. But the pressure denied the Devils from attacking. They needed a breakthrough play. Such as a long pass from Dawson Mercer to spring Jack Hughes into the Rangers’ zone. The Big Deal flew in, got in front of Ryan Lindgren, and slid the puck between Shesterkin’s legs like the goalie was Jaroslav Halak for the score. Absolutely against the run of play. Absolutely a highlight for The Big Deal. Absolutely a gamebreaking goal to make it 3-2. Then the Devils carried on in the second period like they have done for most of this season so far. The attack started to pick up. Another goal was scored. Miles Wood hammered the crossbar on a shot. He thought it was in. Fortunately, Michael McLeod took no chances and put the loose puck over the line. McLeod got the goal to make it 4-2. The Rangers proceeded to risk a further deficit. Trouba went off for hitting Alexander Holtz away from the play. The power play did well but did not score. Later, Trocheck tripped up Brendan Smith. The power play did everything but score; even the first power play unit was tired by the end of it. All was good - until the Devils were caught with too many men on the ice. The Rangers would start the third with a power play.
That would be the theme of the third period. The Devils lack of discipline helped the Rangers get back into this one. As did the score and the recent results of the Rangers. I do not know if you know this, but the Rangers blew a 3-0 lead in the third period to Edmonton to lose 4-3 in regulation. And they even gave Anaheim their first regulation win this season. The Rangers threw everything they could at Vanecek. The Devils were out-attempted 4-16 and out-shot 2-9 in 5-on-5 play. The lack of discipline really added to the risk. While Alexis Lafreniere tripped up Hughes, Mercer tripped up Jimmy Vesey during the power play. The Rangers tried but Vanecek denied them on the shortened power play. Not long after, Ryan Graves hit Zibanejad way away from the puck. Another power play where the PK had to hold on and Vanecek had to make big stops. Then not long after that, Tomas Tatar high-sticked K’Andre Miller. It may have been an accident. However, players are responsible for their sticks and so the call was fair. That one - the fifth power play given to New York - would be costly. Adam Fox sent in a puck through traffic. It hit off Chris Kreider. Amid the mass of legs and skates in front of Vanecek, Trocheck fished out the loose puck and put it into the net. The Rangers made it 4-3 with 6:42 left to play. The fans of Our Hated Rivals at the World’s Most Overrated Arena realized that perhaps they can cheer their team on. With just one goal to make up and over five minutes left, they had the time to do it.
This is ultimately why I stated the Devils held on to win. Yes, they came back from an early 0-2 deficit and went up as much as 4-2. Instead of closing out the third period in a professional manner, they repeated much of what they did against Washington on Saturday. That is, the other team dictated the play, the Devils failed to keep them all that honest, and the Devils were careless with fouls and puck-play to make the game easier for the opponents. At least the Devils had a somewhat consistent attack and added two more goals in the third period. There was none of that this evening - and the Rangers did cut the lead to just one mere goal with plenty of time left.
Fortunately, as you can tell by the headline, there would be no equalizer. Vanecek was able to get in front of whatever the Rangers were throwing at him. Long shots into traffic by the Blueshirts often went wide or into bodies. The rebound or second effort pucks were not in good locations to bury. The Devils skaters were able to get some clearances here and there to break things up. Still, as a fan, as a member of the People Who Matter, as someone who knows the correctly desired result of this game would be a Devils win, it was a tense affair. This is hockey. One bounce, deflection, look, and so forth was needed and it could happen in a blink of an eye.
But it did not happen. I (and you) could relax a bit when Tomas Tatar forced Adam Fox to cough up the puck to Yegor Sharangovich for a zone exit. When Sharangovich passed it up to Tatar past the red line, I (and you) could get a little excited. When Tatar gained the zone and passed it across to a wide open Sharangovich going down the middle with an empty net in front of him, I (and you) could start to cheer. And keep on cheering when Sharangovich calmly put the puck into the net to end the game with 16 seconds left on the clock. The game was over. The Devils beat Our Hated Rivals. Always a cause for celebration for the People Who Matter. Those at the World’s Most Overrated Arena who booed the result, well, they simply do not matter here. But it sounded like a sweet song all the same.
Similar to their loss to Toronto and how the Washington game went down, there are definitely some issues the Devils need to address going forward as the December part of the schedule begins. Namely, starting off periods well, staying out of the box, and handling opponents who are going to go right at them. They are not always going to erase two-goal leads within a period, get great goals against the run of play, or amazing stops from the goalie every night. They did tonight, though, and there is always room for improvement for the next game. Until then, we can and should be happy. The Devils did just beat Our Hated Rivals after all.
The Opposition Opinion: David Chiesa’s headline for his recap at Blueshirt Banter is that the Rangers lost their third in a row. Bummer. At least the multi-goal lead was blown in the first period and not in the third period for a change.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here is the highlight video from tonight’s game.
First...First: Yes, the first point for this game recap beyond the summary is that the Devils are first. No, not just first in the Metropolitan Division. Although they secured that already for another snapshot before this game, which pleases me greatly. The Devils are now in first place in the league standings. Yes, the entire league. Yes, even ahead of an 18-3-0 Boston squad that has been perfect at home this season. Yes, even ahead of a Las Vegas team that is 17-6-1, which leads the Western Conference. Will this last? Probably not. Boston does have two games in hand on the Devils, after all. But this is not a simple piece of trivia where we can ask, “Who was in first place in the NHL after, say, two weeks into the season?” No, this is November 28, 2022. Everyone has played about a quarter of their season and it is the Devils who have risen to first place. This is, well, weird. A very good weird. An entirely unexpected place for the Devils. One I will still appreciate by noting it before discussing anything else about the game that put them there.
The 5-on-5 Drivers of the Night: In 5-on-5 play, the Devils got absolutely steamrolled in the third period. That led to a final result of the Devils edging out the Our Hated Rivals in attempts, 45-44; being tied in shots at 28 each; being a bit behind Our Hated Rivals in scoring chances, 22-25; and being tied in high-danger chances at 9 each. That it was that close shows how much the Devils really tilted the ice in the first and second periods once they got their legs moving.
What was curious to me was who was getting the job done. The Hischier line popped early for chances and put up the Devils’ first goal. When Tatar, Hischier, and Bratt were on the ice together, Natural Stat Trick had the chances at 14-8 for New Jersey and the shots at 11-5 for New Jersey. The third period dropped each of their individual on-ice numbers closer to 50%, but they each finished above it. They did well. Tatar in particular was great in all three zones to make plays and get stops despite his costly high sticking penalty. Fittingly, he scored the Devils’ first goal and created the final goal to seal the win. The captain’s line was crucial for tonight’s result, if only for helping lift the team up from a 0-2 deficit in the first period. (Hischier putting up six shots was also quite good.)
The new fourth line also had themselves a fine game. Fabian Zetterlund took Nathan Bastian’s spot in the lineup next to Miles Wood and Michael McLeod. It was a good first. They were also out-attempting and out-shooting the Rangers when they were on the ice, which is always a good thing to see from a fourth line. They too also provided a goal. Again, McLeod was very smart to just put the loose puck into the net instead of assuming that Wood did score. It secured the goal and it held up as the game winning score. Another point of praise for the fourths: no penalties taken. That’s always a plus for an energy line.
The new third line of Holtz, Jesper Boqvist, and Yegor Sharangovich did not play as much but they did contribute as well. When they were on the ice, they out-attempted the Rangers 5-1 and out-shot them 2-1. OK, not anything to write home about. However, Holtz did draw a penalty and, more importantly, the line provided a goal. Boqvist’s steal ultimately led to Sharangovich’s first goal, which tied up the game at the time. They did get some shifts late in the game with a 4-3 score, but they were kept to minimal minutes. Still, they added to the game.
The only line that got pounded in the run of play was the unit of Mercer, Erik Haula, and Hughes. They saw plenty of Panarin’s line (Chytil, Kakko, Panarin) and clearly did not win that matchup. (That line of Chytil, Kakko, and Panarin was New York’s best line in 5-on-5 by far. It declined deeper into the lineup from the Zibanejad line to the Trocheck and Ryan Carpenter lines.) Or the few shifts against Trocheck’s line. Or the pairing of Fox and Lindgren. They were out-attempted 4-11 and out-shot 4-5 when together. Just seeing four shots from those three in of itself is odd. But it was not a wasteful night. Hughes did score in 5-on-5 off a long feed from Mercer. It really was against the run of play for the Devils at the time of the goal as well as against the run of play for the line. (And each of those three individually; Mercer was out-attempted 7-14, Haula out-attempted 9-13, and Hughes out-attempted 9-18) Still an important goal and a mark of success amid a not so strong night. Oh, and Hughes still had 8 shots on net total.
Which speaks to the Devils’ depth in their offense. Even when a line is forced to play more defense than they want on a given night, they can still strike for a score and add to what would be a winning cause. Given how much that Hughes line has crushed it in 5-on-5 this season, I think it is safe to say this game is not much of a cause of concern.
For the Fourth Time...: Vitek Vanecek has played in 14 games this season. Tonight was just the fourth time he has been beaten for more than two goals in an appearance. Given that he faced 38 shots, his save percentage of the evening was nothing ghastly. If anything, he showed that he can hang with a seriously talented goaltender across the rink from him. Vanecek’s blocker was especially good at denying any open shots from Our Hated Rivals. Panarin and Trocheck were each kept to one goal out of their five shots on net. Lafreniere was denied on all four times. Zibanejad could not beat Vanecek again. Trouba certainly did not, although one of his six shots on net created that Zibanejad score in the first period. The point is that he provided plenty of tough saves amid more routine stops. Vanecek being very good as opposed to, say, league average has been a big reason for the Devils’ awesome record this season. He did it again with only three goals allowed against a total expected goal against value of 3.73 this evening. He did it against some shots that would have beaten other goalies like, say, Igor Shesterkin. He did quite well even with 3 GA on the record. As much as the early hole hurt, the Devils would not have this win without Vanecek playing as well as he did from that point on in the game.
Defensively...: This game was not exactly filled with it as each period had, well, periods of both teams rushing back and forth at times. Both oppositions had to contend with odd man rushes and counter-attacks. Based on the 5-on-5 stats, it was a mixed bag as to who did well and who did not. Graves could have been better. His ice time strongly suggests that. He was kept to three shifts within the final ten minutes, two of which lasted for less than ten seconds. While Jonas Siegenthaler was not bad, he did not play a shift after Trocheck’s PPG. After the game, head coach Lindy Ruff said he does not think he is not injured per Ryan Novozinsky. Perhaps it was something precautionary? This meant the Devils had to hold onto a 4-3 lead with a defense of John Marino, Dougie Hamilton, Brendan Smith, and Damon Severson. If you were wondering why Smith was out there defending a 5-on-6 situation so much, then there is your answer.
Smith and Severson actually had a good night after the first goal against. Neither took a penalty and Smith was not totally beaten over and over as the Rangers picked up the pressure in the third period. Marino made a lot more notable plays defensively. I can agree with those who would say he had the best night among the blueliners. Hamilton tried to keep up but was kept back to some of said pressure. His long passes did provide some respite. But it was not a night where one would think, “Yes, #7 is the man out there.”
Given how the Devils “shortened their blueline” as the game went to the end, it ended up being similar to the Rangers’ usage of their defensemen. Zac Jones and Braden Schneider did not play a lot and got pounded in the run of play. They were kept to just under 11 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. New York leaned hard on Fox, Lindgren, Miller, and Trouba. In the run of play, it would work out as they were constantly on the ice (and in Fox’s case, on the attack) in the third period. But no Rangers defenseman or pairing really “shut down” the Devils either, especially when they would get rolling in the first and second periods.
Knowing That Makes This Funnier: While Vanecek was impressive, Shesterkin less so. Do not take it from me. Here is a censored quote from the goaltender (link to Colin Stephenson’s tweet - the source - goes to an uncensored quote)
“The goalie played a [excrement] game again.” — Igor Shesterkin.
Well, I do not know if I would say that exactly. Then I saw the Tatar goal again. Then I saw that Hughes’ goal was through the five-hole after a second look. And, upon further review, I then saw how Miles Wood sniped a high shot before McLeod put it in. OK, yeah, maybe it was not your best night, Mr. Shesterkin. Or a good one. Or an average one. I am not going to argue with you if you are so down about it, Iggy. Maybe go to Mr. Gallant and request that Halak play some more games. That is what I (and the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Penguins) think you should do.
Atmosphere: There were several of the People Who Matter who paid out the big bucks to the World’s Most Overrated Arena. They made their voice heard after the McLeod goal during a power play. You love to hear it. Thank you to my fellow Devils fans for adding some much needed atmosphere to a sporting event in Manhattan’s most legendary cavern.
Site Note: The month in review for November will be up at 11 AM ET on Thursday, December 1. Check it out. It will be chock full of wins, wins, a long discussion about the Devil of the Month, and more wins. Such is what is the result of a 13-1-0 month. I am very much looking forward to writing it all up over the next two days.
Mark Your Calendars: I will always love Devils wins over Our Hated Rivals. Let us do it again on December 12.
History!: The Devils are the first NHL team ever to win 13 games in a month per Mike Morreale of the NHL.
One Last Thought: It took some time, but there were real flashes of success early from the likes of Bratt, Hughes, and Hischier (and you see some of it from Mercer in recent weeks). Now they have grown to play major roles on the Devils and help them win games like this one. Compare that to the likes of Kakko, Lafreniere, and Chytil (and I guess Vitali Kravtsov, who was scratched). Where are there flashes of the future? Where is their development? Can Kakko or Chytil do well away from Panarin? Can Lafreniere do more than fire pucks for saves and take silly penalties (his tripping of Hughes was silly and right in front of the ref)? Development is more than just drafting high and giving out minutes. It is paying attention to the details, sustaining gains, and making improvements without ruining what makes the player potentially special to begin with. While this was just one game, this is the kind of thing that I thought about when I saw the Devils’ younger forwards get points as they have been this season and in parts of the last couple seasons. It may be something that holds Our Hated Rivals back in the medium to long term. As I tend to wish them the worst, let us hope they do not correct that course. And, hey, maybe they give up on Kakko and Lafreniere and let a Western Conference team try to salvage their skillsets. Who would complain about that?
Your Take: Thank you to everyone who read this recap, commented in the Gamethread, and/or followed along with @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter for sporadic game tweets. What is your take on this win? Who impressed you the most in this game? What, other than the penalties, do the Devils need to address before they host Nashville on Thursday? Were you at the World’s Most Overrated Arena and, if so, how was it there to celebrate a Devils win? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this glorious win in the comments. Thank you for reading.