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No Rust for the Wicked: Devils Return and Win 5-2 over the Rangers

First Period

We start the game off with a whole new look: Mikey McLeod immediately dropping the gloves with Chris Kreider after a clean but solid hit on Mika Zibanejad by McLeod. Kreider challenged him, McLeod said let’s go and away we went. A whole lot of swings and misses before McLeod sort of fell into a headlock, but a good fight overall and an excellent way to start a game against our rivals after two weeks without hockey.

Another new aspect to our look is the lineup, which is a bit different than two weeks ago with some players still out on corona protocol. The main exceptions are the first line, which joined together right before the stoppage when Bratt was finally able to join the team, and the fourth line, which crashes right back together for tonight’s game:

Bratt – Hughes – Johnsson
Kuokkanen – Zacha – Merkley
Sharangovitch – Maltsev – Palmieri
Wood – McLeod – Bastian

Smith – Severson
Butcher – Subban
Tennyson – Carrick

The Devils have come out ready to play and are forcing Shesterkin to work early on in this game. His rebounds have been pretty bad which is great for us. The lineup of Johnsson, Hughes, and Bratt put some solid pressure on but despite his poor rebounds, Shesterkin does look good so far through the first five minutes. Palmieri gets a shot at a sort of breakaway but shows his rust and can’t get the shot off (the Rangers defense contributed a bit to that but it seemed to be mostly his hands not cooperating. He also had symptomatic covid so we’ll give him a pass).

Miles Wood picks up what would have been an icing and sends a behind the back pass to the center but the Rangers piled into the slot and take away the pass.

Andreas Johnsson picks up a pass mid-ice and takes it for a breakaway, but the trailing defenseman interferes just enough and he awkwardly loses the puck and sort of just crumples into Shesterkin as he easily makes the save (no injury to be seen, just a weird play).

The Rangers turn the play the other way this time, finally managing some zone time in the Devils end ten minutes into the first period. A few shots materialize, including a wide-open one-timer from former Devil Kevin Rooney, but nothing Blackwood can’t handle.

Palmieri’s line moves down and Palms makes a cross-crease pass to Sharangovitch, who rips a one-timer that Shesterkin just manages to catch with his left pad. The Hughes line comes out and Jesper Bratt manages a shot and his own rebound in tight. The Rangers come back down to the Devils end but are once again stopped by Blackwood, who so far looks perfectly sharp despite his month-long absence (and illness).

Hughes steals a puck that creates a passing volley through the line that leaves the Rangers defense pretty much standing helplessly and leads to a blistering shot from Hughes at the side of the net but Shesterkin is able to get to it in time to keep the scoreboard empty heading into the first intermission.

Chris Kreider lifts the puck out of play from the defensive zone off the face-off, sending the Devils to a powerplay for the remaining 50 seconds of the first period. It takes some time to get going but the waning seconds do see the Devils power play unit get zone time and start to set up, so that should provide some momentum going into the second period with a little more than half a power play to go.

Worth noting so far through this period, the Devils collective backcheck is still a force to be reckoned with as it has been so far this season (particularly in comparison to years past) and is taking away a lot of would-be offense for the Rangers. It’s a big part of why the Devils are leading 16-9 in shots at the end of 20 minutes.

Second Period

Spoiler alert: the Devils power play did not look any better. The Rangers forced multiple turnovers that all resulted in shorthanded shots, mostly by Zibanejad, and a messy save that left a puck loose and unaccounted for in the crease behind Blackwood.

The Rangers are buzzing following their effective penalty kill, and force another turnover back behind the Devils net. The Rangers actually get the puck behind Blackwood but it was batted in by the hand of Ryan Strome, so the goal is waved off. The Rangers come flying back and get right back at it in front of Blackwood. The Devils can’t seem to comfortably clear the zone all of a sudden and it’s leading to way too many Rangers chances. The Devils got a little lazy after walking all over the Rangers in the first period, and they need to get their heads together quickly before this gets out of hand.

And get together they do. The Rangers ran the first few minutes of the period but the Devils finally pulled their heads out of their jockstraps and start to exit the zone and create pressure of their own, at least evening out the game now. Unfortunately, they tilted it back a little too much and drew another penalty— this time a roughing call against Mika Zibanejad who elbowed Bastian in the head for daring to shoot near him. The good news, Zibanejad is by far the most disruptive member of the Rangers penalty kill. The bad news, the Devils power play still has to go to work. So away we go.

The Devils start in the zone and manage to maintain it this time, mostly plagued by the penalty-killing styles of one Kevin Rooney. They spend a good minute of time playing tic tac toe, but right before it was too many passes and I was about to yell shoot at the TV, Pavel Zacha rips a riser over the shoulder of Igor Shesterkin, putting the Devils on the board and ending a brutal powerplay drought. 1-0 Devils.

The Rangers come back with force now, but the Devils are remaining strong and not making the mistakes the Rangers need for us to give them a goal.

Miles Wood nearly takes a breakaway but the puck was batted down with a handpass so the rush is called off.

The next play is called off for a high stick on the puck. A lot of hockey going on in the air tonight.

The Devils get a great chance at one end but the shot goes wide and the Rangers grab the puck and take it the other way. Brett Howden drops a behind the back pass to Colin Blackwell, who has plenty of time to walk in and rip a shot to beat Blackwood and drag the game back to an even score at 1-1. Miles Wood followed Howden rather than follow the puck to Blackwell, and McLeod was caught back and unable to catch up to him. Matt Tennyson also got walked a bit on the play as well.

The Devils come back and try to take the lead again with a good chance in front but Bratt couldn’t get the shot off in time and Shesterkin makes it across easily.

The Rangers come back and set up in the Devils zone, making good passes but the Devils are doing well to try and interfere, and finally grab a loose puck and get it out.

Chris Kreider gets a spring pass from Trouba and gets a shot off on Blackwood but he gloves it easily. Trouba gets another shot off the faceoff that goes off the crossbar.

Back down the other end and Will Butcher wants to make a name for himself after being sat the entirety of the season so far. He throws a shot in front that catches the leg of Trouba and deflects past Shesterkin to put the Devils back on top and puts his name on the scoresheet for the first time this year. 2-1 Devils!

The Rangers are really making the Devils work to keep their lead here, back down into the Devils zone immediately after the ensuing faceoff. With 30 seconds left in the period, Nick Merkley loses the puck to Chris Kreider. Kreider finds Buchnevitch across the middle of the ice and Buchnevitch rips it past Blackwood to even the score back up barely a minute later. 2-2.

Mikhail Maltsev looks to take the lead back for the Devils before the period ends, forcing a turnover and taking a big shot but Shesterkin makes the save, and we go into the second intermission tied at 2, and with slight whiplash from the scoring ping pong in that period.

Third Period

The Rangers will play the remaining 20 minutes of the game without a major impact player in Jacob Trouba, who left the game with an upper body injury.

The Rangers look the better team at the very beginning of the period, not buzzing quite the way they were after the first intermission but still giving the Devils some trouble. It takes a couple of minutes but the Devils get their first zone time and scoring chances about three minutes into the period before Shesterkin makes the saves and sends the play back down the other way. Blackwood freezes the puck and the Devils take the puck back down to Shesterkin off the faceoff. The Rangers try to clear but Carrick catches the puck from the air and gets a shot off that deflects towards the net but just misses wide.

Back in the Devils zone and the Rangers get away with at least their third missed call, this time a trip on Jack Hughes. Back the other day and the Devils get a few passes around culminating in a shot that is deflected out of play. The Rangers return on the following faceoff and find a wide open Bitetto to take a shot, but it lands right in the breadbasket for Blackwood.

The Devils come flying back into the zone. Jesper Bratt finds PK Subban, who rips a shot that is deflected by a Ranger and then Sharangovitch and finds its way past Shesterkin and into the back of the net. The Devils retake the lead at 3-2.

The Devils come back again and find themselves on a 3 on 1 that is well defended and well backchecked, but McLeod still gets the shot off.

The Devils are pouring the heat on here instead of giving in to the Rangers pressure the way they did after the first two goals. Back at it in the zone and Janne Kuokkanen takes the puck down by the goal line. He finds an open Nick Merkley in the high slot who finds another hole in Shesterkin and doubles the Devils lead to 4-2.

Disclaimer: I will not, ever, be using that nickname

The Rangers pull Shesterkin with just under 3 minutes to go, which is three more minutes of anxiety than I really wanted. The Devils put up a good defensive battle early on, clearly aiming for the final nail in the coffin as they ice the puck five times trying for the empty net goal. As we head into the final minute, Nick Merkley gets a short clear, PK Subban gets a short clear and the Devils are finally able to change. With just over 20 seconds remaining, Mikhail Maltsev picks off the puck from Kreider and finally finds the empty net the Devils have been looking for. Maltsev’s first NHL goal (not counting his beautiful destruction of Lundqist in a breakaway goal last preseason) seals the deal for the 5-2 Devils win over the Rangers.

The Game Highlights

The Bad

Me: I want to apologize if this recap seems a bit choppy, a couple of weeks without hockey makes me pretty rusty too. Will be better for Saturday!

Jack Hughes somehow finished with a CF% worse than Matt Tennyson, a whopping ten percent below any other player at 5v5 with 31%. His line with Andreas Johnsson and Jesper Bratt did fine, but he did play several minutes with Palmieri instead of Bratt, which were not at all successful, so that may the reason for that. Other than that I have no complaints about his game as a whole but that’s just a glaringly awful stat that deserves some note.

The Power Play: Yet again. So, so bad. Yes, Zacha scored on the powerplay, but that’s not much of a consolation prize considering their best penalty killer was in the box. The first power play was atrocious and we’re lucky the turnovers in that second minute alone didn’t sink the game for us. The power play just has to improve somehow. Here’s hoping Nico Hischier’s return will bring some spark to that for us.

The Good

Mikey McLeod: In addition to 3 hits, a fight, 5 scoring chances including 3 high danger chances and 3 shots, McLeod also went 92 PERCENT in the faceoff circle during the first two periods, losing just a couple in the third and finishing at 76% with 13 wins and 4 losses. Those incredible numbers were part of the reason the fourth line was used extensively and nearly exclusively in the defensive zone. His Corsi was terrible, but this usage is likely the reason for that.

Worth noting is that Mikhail Maltsev also went nearly 65 percent in the faceoff circle, which is pretty good for a guy in his second career game. He also got his first career goal with the empty netter.

Janne Kuokkanen picked up 3 points on 5 goals. For a guy who hasn’t been super noticeable (which isn’t a bad thing given that seems to be his style), that’s a strong statement. Ruff is going to have to make some lineup decisions when the rest of the roster returns to full health, and Kyokkanen just made his decision that much harder.

Pavel Zacha continued the excellent play he’s been bringing all season. He finished on top of the team in 5v5 CF% and picked up his first goal of the season. He was also instrumental in Butcher’s goal as well.

Mackenzie Blackwood played excellent for someone who was ill the last month and was quoted this morning as saying he wasn’t 100% yet. I think he might like that second Rangers goal back honestly, but overall he was solid and I’m just so happy to see him back in net.

Will Butcher played in his first game in nearly an entire year and put up a goal, a decent showing in stats, and 2 goals and zero against while he was on the ice. I’d say that’s more than worth finding room for him in the lineup at least over Matt Tennyson, who again managed one of the worst CF% on the team, the lowest of any defenseman, was on the ice for 2 goals against and 0 out of 5 goals for the team, and is overall just an anchor on skates out there. For a coach that values speedy play movement and offensive productivity, it’s shocking Butcher hasn’t been in games before. We’ll see if his showing in tonight’s game was enough to earn him more playing time.

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