The New Jersey Devils are not going to the playoffs this season. The New York Rangers are. But the Devils didn’t let a slow start get them down, and after falling behind early after a few defensive miscues, they exploded offensively in the second period to send the Vezina Trophy favorite Igor Shesterkin to the bench early.. The New York Rangers pulled to within two off of a redirected goal early in the third, but Jack Hughes put the game out of reach with two third period goals to beat Our Hated Rivals by a score of 7-4.
The Rangers got things started working the puck over to Alexis Lafreniere but Nico Hischier blocked the shot. Jacob Trouba caught Hischier with a big (clean) hit in the neutral zone that drew a reaction from the split crowd at Prudential Center. Ryan Lindgren threw the puck towards the net and Nico Daws covered it up for the stoppage. Neither team did a whole lot over the next few minutes both teams had trouble connecting on passes. The Hughes line didn’t muster much in the offensive zone when they did finally gain it.
The Devils finally got their best offensive flurry early after an icing infraction as Igor Shesterkin denied a backhand attempt by Jesper Bratt and Damon Severson’s shot attempt got blocked down in front. The Rangers came right back as Andreas Johnsson lost Mika Zibanejad, who gained the offensive zone cleanly. Damon Severson failed to clear the puck and Alexis Lafreniere collected it and got a shot on net that Daws denied. Lafreniere kept the play alive behind the Devils net, Ryan Graves vacated the front of the net as the Devils tried to overload yet again, and the Rangers found perennial thorn in the Devils-side Mika Zibanejad in front to make it 1-0 New York.
The Devils came right back in a two-on-one odd man rush. Hughes fed Sharangovich, who didn’t handle the pass cleanly and ultimately had to work it behind the net to try to set up Siegenthaler in front, who fired it into Shesterkin’s torso.
Nathan Bastian got a shot on net that popped up in the air, but nobody was within vicinity to punch it into the open net as Shesterkin fought it off. Zibanejad clipped Jonas Siegenthaler with a high stick to give the Devils their first chance on the power play at the 9:53 mark. The Devils second power play unit wasted no time giving up a short handed opportunity as Andrew Copp and Barclay Goodrow caught the Devils in a partial two-on-one. The Rangers continued to deny the Devils any clean entries and almost had another scoring chance on the PP with Tyler Motte stripping Dawson Mercer of the puck. The Devils finally got the first unit on with 20 seconds left and set up a shot down low for Jesper Bratt that was easily turned away. Ty Smith botched the ol’ “flip the puck out of the zone at the end of a long shift” and iced the puck with the 4th line out there. The Rangers took advantage of this miscue with the offensive zone faceoff win and Adam Fox ripped it off Daws’s shoulder and in for a 2-0 Rangers lead. The Rangers went to the room after 20 minutes with the same 2-0 advantage.
The Devils didn’t do much over the first few minutes of the second although Nico Daws did have to make a save off of another Devils icing. The Devils continued to do nothing the next few minutes until Jack Hughes poked loose a puck along the boards. Hughes got slowed up as he was gaining the offensive zone, but Andreas Johnsson came up with the loose puck. Unfortunately, Johnsson was content to hold the puck in the slot and continue holding the puck and not actually shooting the puck.
The Devils finally got on the board as Jesper Bratt got a head of steam exiting the defensive zone. He found Ryan Graves who put the shot on net. Shesterkin made the initial save, but the puck was loose in front of Shesterkin’s pad as Nico Hischier and Tomas Tatar chipped away at it. Their efforts were rewarded as the puck slipped under and went in the net (As of this writing, Ryan Graves was ultimately credited with the goal, but the goal was initially credited to Hischier and changed to Tatar, so it might change again)
New Jersey kept applying the pressure as Ty Smith worked the puck to Andreas Johnsson, who found PK Subban at the point. The Devils did a nice job getting some bodies in front to provide a screen as Subban ripped it home to tie the game, much to the delight of the Devils fans in attendance and the agony of Rangers fans who have called him Slew-ban this season.
The Devils kept the pressure on with their top line as Mercer did a nice job along the boards but Hughes eventually got stripped of the puck and the Rangers cleared. After regaining the zone, Sharangovich just missed connecting with Hughes on a an open look.
The Devils took the lead as Dawson Mercer kept the play alive along the boards and worked it down in front for Jack Hughes. Hughes tried to feed the shot through traffic but it got deflected out to the point. Ryan Graves was there to put the puck down low and Mercer tapped it into the open net for the 3-2 Devils lead.
The Devils kept crashing the net as Jesper Bratt partially fanned on the shot attempt. Tomas Tatar worked it across and Damon Severson collected the loose puck along the boards. The veteran defenseman found Tatar alone to put the Devils up by two.
Ryan Reaves got frustrated and slashed Mason Geertsen in the back of the leg to give the Devils a power play. The Rangers got an early clear but Hughes regained the zone and fed Hischier along the boards. Hischier got it back to Hughes who made a nice spinning pass to Jesper Bratt alone in front for the power play goal.....or so the Devils thought. Rangers coach Gerard Gallant challenged the play for offsides as Dougie Hamilton was boxed out along the blueline and pushed offside. The situation room in Toronto took their time looking at it, but it appeared on review that Hamilton didn’t get back onside in time. The goal was waved off and the Devils power play continues with 1:41 remaining with the man advantage.
The Devils continued to keep the puck in the zone but the Rangers got a clear as a Hughes feed down low for Hischier was turned away. The Rangers killed the remainder of the Reaves penalty. Fortunately, the Devils got that overturned goal right back though as Nico Hischier gained the zone and found Yegor Sharangovich. Hischier got down in front to provide the partial screen as Sharangovich ripped it by Shesterkin to make it 5-2 Devils.
The final minute and change ticked off and the Devils portion of the Prudential Center crowd gave the home team a well-deserved standing ovation after putting 5 on Shesterkin and the Rangers to give the Devils a 5-2 lead at the second intermission.
Alex Georgiev came on in relief of Igor Shesterkin to start the third. BOOOOOOOOOOOO Gerard Gallant for not giving the Devils fans in attendance the satisfaction of serenading Shesterkin, who after being talked up as a potential Hart Trophy candidate has posted an .878 save percentage in his last five outings.
The Devils spent the first two or so minutes of the third parking the bus and keeping the Rangers from generating a whole lot on Daws. Hughes and Mercer caught the Rangers in a 2-on-1 but #86 sailed the shot wide. The Rangers came back and Artemi Panarin flipped a harmless looking shot towards the net. Ryan Strome just caught enough of the rising shot to redirect it past Daws to cut it to 5-3 New Jersey.
Ty Smith overskated as a puck got by him, leading to a Filip Chytil breakaway chance that Daws had to make the stop on. Nemeth got away with a hook to deny Michael McLeod on a point-blank chance in front on Georgiev the other way.
Dougie Hamilton caught a Artemi Panarin shot on his hand and went to the bench to shake it off, but stayed in the game. Sharangovich and Panarin collided in the neutral zone, with Panarin ultimately skating off under his own power but he did not return. Ryan Strome stood up for Panarin (it was not a dirty hit by Sharangovich and if anything, Panarin left his feet to initiate contact) and went to the box for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Devils another power play. This power play was atrocious as the Devils gave up multiple scoring chances. Hischier did a good job with his backchecking to deny Zibanejad on one as a puck got past Hamilton. They almost got burned again on a 2-on-1 as Zibanejad and Kreider caught Hamilton in no-man’s land, but Kreider couldn’t connect on the return pass to beat Daws. The Devils came right back with the numbers advantage as Hughes and Hischier did a little give-and-go, culminating with Hughes tapping in the PPG to make it 6-3. For those keeping track at home, this is the 100th point of Hughes’s career, which is more than Kappo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere combined.
THIS IS WHAT 100 NHL POINTS LOOKS LIKE. pic.twitter.com/XPjMFv77UY— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 23, 2022
Hughes wasn’t done though as the Devils put the exclamation point on this one with Subban finding Sharangovich in the neutral zone. Sharangovich spun away from his man and got it to Hughes, who gained the zone, got a little space and backhanded it by Georgiev for his second of the night. 7-3 Devils, as a portion of the Rangers fans in attendance started to head out to beat the traffic. You love to see it.
Long live Jack Hughes, first of his name, slayer of Rangers. pic.twitter.com/GP24UiObbM— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 23, 2022
Jimmy Vesey got caught hooking Mika Zibanejad, and after some extended time with the extra skater, the Devils finally touched up and the Rangers got their first chance on the power play. Adam Fox and Andrew Copp worked it down low to Chris Kreider on the doorstep and the longtime Ranger tapped in the power play goal with what feels like his 384th power play of the season. Good luck with that in the playoffs once the officials swallow the whistle like they historically do in the playoffs. 7-4 Devils.
Nico Daws made a couple more stops shortly after the goal to keep New York from getting any closer. Tomas Tatar found Jesper Bratt for a point blank chance the other way, but the Devils leading scorer couldn’t bury it. The final minute or so was mostly uneventful, aside from the Devils fans in attendance giving the home team a hand for a job well done as the Devils beat the Rangers 7-4. With the win, the Devils snapped an 8-game losing streak to their rivals, dating back to last season.
The Opposition Opinion: Visit Blueshirt Banter if you want to read the Rangers perspective on tonight’s game.
Big Night for the Devils Core
Let’s start with Nico Hischier, who I thought had one of his best games of the season. He didn’t get credited with the first goal on Shesterkin, but having him and Tatar chipping away there created that goal. Perhaps more importantly, he showed the leadership you want to see and set the tone there with a dirty goal. The Devils in general don’t score a lot of greasy goals, so to see them create a bunch of offense in a short spurt off of that with screens was nice to see. Hischier set up the screen on the Sharangovich goal and made the nice pass to Hughes on his first goal. Great night for the captain.
Jesper Bratt caught a tough break losing a goal after review (and I could go into a whole rant about how Hamilton being offside by a fraction of an inch isn’t really in the spirit of having offsides plays be reviewable in the first place, but whatever), but he did pick up a couple assists to improve to 62 points in 58 games. Not bad when you recall he went 0-fer the first five games this season and got benched at one point. Pay the man, Fitz.
Hughes looked good at times early, as he had a couple of his typically brilliant feeds for Sharangovich that he didn’t do anything with. He continues to draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses, and while Sharangovich and Mercer have done an admirable job complimenting him, I’d love to see what he can do with someone capable of scoring 40 goals. Anyways, his two goals in the third period put the game out of reach, and that shouldn’t be discounted. With the goaltending for the Devils being as poor as it’s been this season and the Devils already surrendering one early in the third period, the game wasn’t decided yet until Hughes put the Devils over the top.
Lastly, he’s not a core piece, but I think Tomas Tatar is really starting to find his groove with his third goal in the last seven games. When the Devils actually get some secondary scoring and aren’t relying on their top guys to do everything, they have the ability to run teams out of the building. Nico Daws could potentially play himself into being a core piece one day, and he was mostly fine in this one. Giving up 4 goals isn’t ideal, but defensive miscues led to the Zibanejad goal, a bad icing led to the Fox goal, the Strome goal was tipped in, and Kreider tapped in a power play goal. It happens. More importantly, he made the stops he needed to when the game was in doubt, and when it was 2-0 New York, he kept the Devils in it and pitched a shutout in the second.
Tom Fitzgerald Speaks (Again)
Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald sat down with Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador during the pregame show. I don’t want to rehash everything he said previously in his post-trade deadline press conference. You can watch that here if you missed what he had to say yesterday.
Here is what he had to say today that he hadn’t touched on previously that I found interesting. Make of these quotes what you will.
On adding complimentary players to supplement what they have: “We do need to be picky because we’ve got elite talent with Jack and Nico up the middle. You’ve seen what Mercer has done. Holtz will be coming. Luke Hughes is coming. Bratt and the kind of year he’s having and how young he is.....it’s about finding the right pieces to compliment them. It may be size. It may be harder skill, gritter type players that are hard to play against. Those players are usually on playoff teams and those teams don’t want to give them up, but those are the characteristics we value, especially up front.”
On Alex Holtz: He didn’t really say much new on Holtz he didn’t say yesterday about how more time in the AHL never hurt anyone and the areas of his game that needs more work, although he did mention the salary cap being a concern, which would suggest to me that they don’t want to burn the year off of his ELC by getting him more games at this level in an otherwise lost season. I would agree with that decision.
On Kevin Bahl and Reilly Walsh: “I’d like to get these kids up at some point. I can’t sit here and tell you if its gonna be 10 games or 5 games or one. But they’ve earned the right as well and that’s one thing we want to create down there. Earn your right to get called up. You come up here and get your opportunity to get your foot in the door, get another game.” He also mentioned how Bahl is playing with a little more snarl and being harder to play against and name dropped Nikita Okhotiuk and wanting to get him a chance at some point.
On Nico Hischier: “I think one of the things that has really stuck out is he plays through injuries. That’s leadership. As Sal and I both know as former captains, that’s not an easy job. That’s a big part of the reason why I wanted to name Nico captain last year during the short season. Get a runway of “how do I manage this, grab this, and learn from it.” With Nico, he plays through adversity, he plays hurt. He practices hard. He’s just a leader that when you watch him and what he does, he’s tough not to follow.”
As it turns out, the Rangers look pretty ordinary when they get a Jon Gillies-like performance in net. We’ll see what happens when they face Pittsburgh or Carolina in a big spot, but if the Carolina game does like it did the other night where they did everything they wanted against the Rangers but score, I don’t like the Rangers chances.
I mentioned earlier how the Devils are not going to the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean these games are entirely meaningless. Part of the reason why Tom Fitzgerald made the Andrew Hammond trade was to try to get some semblance of quality goaltending down the stretch so the netminders can give the Devils a chance to win. Daws has shown several times now that if he can simply be adequate, he can give them a chance. There is value in that when you’re evaluating a bunch of players in their young 20s who aren’t even close to being finished products.
What did you think of the win tonight? Were you as pleased as I was to see the Devils attack the net, get some bodies in front, and put a few past Shesterkin and Georgiev? Do you agree with me about Daws being fine for the most part? What else stood out to you? Please feel free to make your voice heard in the comments section below, and thank you for reading.