The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (52-22-8 in regular season) versus the New York Rangers (47-22-13 in regular season), Rangers lead series 0-1
The Time: 7:30 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - TBS, SN360, TVAS2, MSGSN, MSG
Per Amanda Stein, the Devils held an optional practice on Wednesday, with the following guys participating:
Players on the ice for #NJDevils optional:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) April 19, 2023
Vanecek, Schmid, Blackwood, L. Hughes, Sharangovich, Smith, Wood, McLeod, Boqvist, Bastian, Bahl and Lazar.
Essentially the entire group of guys that do not have their lineup spot guaranteed. Honestly I am rather surprised that Lindy didn’t have the entire team in after what happened in game 1. Sort of a bad look from the coach for not demanding it, and from the players for not showing up anyway.
The Rangers also had an optional practice but here it seems like almost everybody showed up.
Rangers say it’s an optional practice, but looks like almost everyone is here. Only regular guys I’m not seeing are Tyler Motte and Mika Zibanejad. #NYR— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) April 19, 2023
Motte and Zibanejad may be carrying knocks but they will most certainly be playing in game 2. I couldn’t find any information about the lines the Rangers were running in practice, but I would be very surprised if they change anything from game 1, especially since those lines have been pretty consistent even down the stretch of the regular season.
First of all, aligning more with John’s series preview recommendations would be a start.
Speaking at practice, one thing Lindy Ruff said stood out to me regarding the Devils powerplay. First of all, that was the worst thing I’ve ever watched, I think, those four Devils powerplays. Zero shots on goal on four attempts is pathetic, and my heart shouldn’t sink when the Devils draw a call in anticipation of them failing to enter the zone for roughly 90 seconds of the 120, only to have Hamilton or Hughes rip it high immediately when they get the puck, giving an easy clear and that being that for the powerplay.
Anyway, Ruff’s observation was that they were trying too hard to find the perfect play and that they should try to shoot some more. I strongly disagree with this sentiment. In the regular season, per NaturalStattrick, the Devils had 60 shot attempts per 60 minutes of 5-on-4 powerplay time. Against the Rangers, they had eight shot attempts on eight minutes of powerplay time, meaning the rates of shot attempts are identical. In fact, as I wrote above, it felt like they basically had no zone time, meaning their effective shot attempts rate, shot attempts per minute in the offensive zone, was probably higher (I have no data to back this up, but that was certainly how it felt for a highly frustrated fan).
One of the main differences (again, my impression) between the Devils and Rangers powerplays was that the Rangers were very consciously trying to get set up in their desired formation before trying to get a look, whereas the Devils just shot the puck at first seeming chance. Ruff saying that the Devils were overpassing it is completely incompatible with what I was watching, because that was certainly not what was going on. I’m not saying I want the Devils to pass the puck into the net, far from it, we need shots on net, but at least have some sort of structure or organisation before you try to make something happen.
Now, had Lindy made his forcing-the-play comment about the Devils’ 5-on-5 offense, that would be more astute, as the Devils had a unfavourable amount of individual efforts and overpassing against a Rangers defense that was more than happy to sit back and take away any lanes for any such attempts. Mind, certain Devils were certainly trigger happy as well, with Hamilton, Graves and Severson being the main culprits. As John pointed out in his recap of game 1, Hamilton had six shot attempts, Graves had six and Severson five, which combined for a whopping two shots on goal, for a nice 2/17 = 12% effeiciency rate! That has to stop. High quality shots, yes, but no banging it on from the point when there are five Rangers in the way eagerly waiting to boost their blocked-shot stats. For the rest of the Devils, just get pucks on net. Shesterkin is a good goalie, and he is especially good when he has no shots to stop.
Nathan Bastian and Miles wood had 7:40 and 7:30 of icetime, respectively, in all situations in game 1, down considerably from their regular season averages of 12:26 and 12:06. The following is the Devils’ shift report from NaturalStattrick. In the column with names you can see McLeod, Wood and Bastian next to each other, so there shifts are easy to track.
The line in the middle of the chart shows the last time the BMW line played in the second period, with Ruff benching them. McLeod got out for what I presume to be a faceoff and then him and Bastian had a PK shift, but Wood did not see the ice again. Until the Rangers had made it 3-0 and the game was over, where Ruff sent them out again (albeit sparsely) presumably to not tire out the guys who actually contribute to the Devils winning games. When the going gets tough, Ruff seems content not to use the BMW line, and for good reason, with both Wood and McLeod taking stupid penalties giving the Rangers free goals based on how lethal their powerplay is. And even if they didn’t take dumb penalties, the fact of the matter is Wood and McLeod are poor players and, although I think he is much better than his linemates (simply by virtue of not being a defensive liability), Bastian left a lot to be desired in his game 1 performance.
This then all begs the question of if they make the lineup for game 2. McLeod will be in there as he can win faceoffs (which helped the Devils a great deal). Wood and Bastian, I’m not sure. If Ruff scratches just one, it will be Bastian, probably for Lazar. If both come out Sharangovich will be in. Given that he is content with rolling three lines, he might even consider taking both of them out but not putting two forwards back in, maybe letting Luke Hughes or more likely Brendan Smith play, going 11-7. We’ll see what he decides to do, but I would be surprised if the lineup remains intact.
What do you think of tonight’s game? Win or bust for the Devs, I say. What adjustments should they be looking to make? Who do you want to see in the lineup? What do we do against the Rangers powerplay (other than cutting down unnecessary opportunities)? Who are you looking to for a big performance tonight when the Devils really need it? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading.