The Rangers scored in the first, as the Devils failed to get the puck out of the zone despite two Devils taking Artemi Panarin high in the zone. The Rangers worked the puck low, forcing Blackwood to make a couple stops before moving it back out to Jacob Trouba, who blasted it past Blackwood. 1-0, Rangers.
The Rangers then took a penalty less than a minute later, as Pavel Buchnevich went off for high sticking. With Kuokkanen and Sharangovich replacing Zacha and Bratt, the Devils had a good chance early on a netside Kuokkanen shot. However, the Devils failed to do much following their first couple of attempts, as the Rangers continually pushed them back.
Ryan Lindgren would later make it a 2-0 game, as Artemi Panarin was in the slot and sent him a backhand pass, giving him a great scoring opportunity as Will Butcher dove in front of Blackwood. Lindgren’s shot got past Blackwood on his blocker side.
Artemi Panarin then made it a 3-0 game, as the Rangers had a two-on-one with Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin. Damon Severson did not take away the pass, and allowed Panarin to one-time it past Blackwood as Jack Hughes tried to catch up to Strome.
The Rangers took another penalty when Kravtsov slashed Jonas Siegenthaler in the Devils’ offensive zone. Jack Hughes rang a shot off the post to start the power play. The Devils failed to get another attempt in the first minute. The second unit’s overly-long passing plays led to a Rangers clear and an offsides for Miles Wood. Damon Severson’s shot at the end of the power play went wide, and the Devils could have scored on an ensuing rebound scramble around the net. However, they did not. The period ended with the Rangers up 3-0. The shots were 10-3, in favor of the Rangers, obviously.
Nico Hischier had a chance to score right in front of Shesterkin off a pass from the corner, but he was denied. The Devils did better early on in the second at getting some chances on goal, but could not get into much open space. Jack Hughes had a takeaway on the forecheck, intercepting a pass from Jacob Trouba and shooting from his forehand on the breakaway. However, Shesterkin made a glove save, as Hughes couldn’t lift the puck high enough.
Then, Michael McLeod took a slashing penalty five and a half minutes into the period. He slashed Mika Zibanejad in the neutral zone. The Devils won the draw, and the Rangers were forced back to the neutral zone. Andreas Johnsson cleared the puck shortly after a zone entry, and the first minute was entirely wasted. A shot by Jacob Trouba was stopped in the latter half of the penalty kill, and the Devils successfully killed the two minutes.
Jack Hughes set Janne Kuokkanen up for a one-timer right after the peanlty, but the shot went wide. Then, Hughes gave the puck away trying to cycle by the blueline, and had to force the Rangers to take an offsides call by disrupting their transition play.
The Devils haphazardly allowed the puck to roll around Blackwood’s net, with Blackwood reaching halfway with his stick at the puck deflecting off the end board before Strome swooped in and slid it across to Panarin. Panarin buried the shot, making it a 4-0 game.
Then, Ryan Murray and Damon Severson allowed Kevin Rooney to get in behind them, following a good shift by the Hughes line. However, Blackwood squeezed his shot between the pads, freezing play and stopping the breakaway chance.
Tyce Thompson made a good pass off an offensive zone entry, across the zone to P.K. Subban, whose slap shot sounded like he was trying to break the post in half. No goal, on the second shot hitting iron for the Devils in the game. On the other end, Blackwood had to stretch across to make a blocker save on a Strome one-timer from Artemi Panarin. Jack Hughes later took a tripping penalty as Zibanejad drove toward the net.
On the penalty kill, Blackwood made an early stop on Kaapo Kakko, who cut from the goal line to the front of the net. Mikhail Maltsev got a shot on Shesterkin late in the kill, but it was a tightly contested play. The Devils killed the penalty with relative ease, and Jack Hughes came back on. Hughes took a shot that created a rebound for Mikhail Maltsev, who could not get the puck past Shesterkin as Maltsev dove for the puck.
Through two periods, the Devils were down in shots 25-9. Any momentum they had created for themselves in the beginning of the period was long gone by the end of it.
Nick Merkley set up a one-timer for Damon Severson nearly three minutes into the period, but the shot deflected off the post. The Devils did not get much more in the way of offense early on, and continued to play defense against rushes by the Rangers.
Marian Studenic forced a giveaway on the forecheck with a big hit in the corner several minutes into the period, but Michael McLeod lost the puck shortly after. A minute later, Nick Merkley had a two-on-one with Nico Hischier. The pass was well guarded, so Merkley took the shot and was denied from the slot.
Vitaly Kravtsov scored his first NHL goal on a weak shot on the rush. Pavel Buchnevich found him from across the zone, and Kravtsov went far-side to get it past Blackwood to make it a 5-0 game. Lindy Ruff then challenged for offsides. The referees then actually waved the goal off, as Mika Zibanejad was slightly offsides. Since Zibanejad didn’t even factor into the goal, that’s just stupid.
Janne Kuokkanen missed an open net off consecutive rebounds from Ryan Murray and Nick Merkley shots. There might not have been a better opportunity for the Devils as of that point of the game.
Chris Kreider took an interference minor penalty for knocking down Will Butcher, which gave the Devils another opportunity. Jack Hughes set Yegor Sharangovich up for a one-timer, but Sharangovich shanked it. The Devils did not get any shots on goal during the power play.
The Devils did not do anything of note for the rest of the game, losing it 4-0.
I don’t even need to break this down into sections – that was one of the worst two and a half hours of hockey I’ve ever watched the Devils play. Natural Stat Trick had them leading the Rangers in total scoring chances by eight (24 to 16), yet the Devils only had 16 shots on goal to the Rangers’ 33. Tonight was as easy a shutout as Igor Shesterkin could have asked for. The Devils occasionally did get into the scoring areas, but they cannot hit the net to save their lives.
The only players worth watching for the Devils tonight were the Hughes line, though Kuokkanen and Sharangovich both had trouble hitting the net tonight. Jack Hughes did his best to make things happen, but it’s easy for the Rangers to deny them when Blackwood allowed New York to get out to an early lead.
And as far as goalie performances go, this was an obvious backup night for the New Jersey Devils. Yet, Lindy Ruff trotted MacKenzie Blackwood out there again, keeping him on little rest and forcing the issue. Blackwood has not won any of his last seven starts, and is getting very close to sporting a save percentage under .900. Scott Wedgewood could have given up four goals in a shutout loss tonight, as Aaron Dell could have. Why waste Blackwood’s time and destroy his confidence behind this show of a “defense?”
And in terms of the defense, I do not see any reason to retain Alain Nasreddine beyond this season. I know the penalty kill has improved – I don’t care about that. What I care about is the Devils puck-watching in the defensive zone, and the passive acceptance of P.K. Subban or Ryan Murray turning the puck over with passes directly to opposition players. The Devils need new coaches, starting from the back end. On the Panarin goal that made it a 4-0 game, the Devils let Strome get to the loose puck. This team has no urgency, and it showed tonight.
As for their missing players, Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt, I find it hard to believe they would have made so much of a difference in tonight’s game. Sure, they are two of the Devils’ only forwards who possess NHL-level skill. But, the effort down the lineup was too weak. The Devils work too slowly, while the Rangers crisply pass between each other up and down the ice, pulling off backhands and drops that the Devils could only telegraph for turnovers.
However, I would like to see Miles Wood and Andreas Johnsson as far away from Nico Hischier as possible. Miles Wood belongs with Michael McLeod. Andreas Johnsson belongs on a different team where he can actually score based on that team’s already-existing playmaking. Johnsson in particular was dreadful tonight, as you can see on the replay of the initial goal by Trouba. When two Devils took Artemi Panarin, Johnsson could have covered the pass across the blueline, but instead drifted low in the zone to vaguely guard the high slot. But as the Rangers pressured closer to Blackwood, Johnsson collapsed with the Devils, failing to take away any passing or shooting lane as he made a futile attempt to dive in front of the shot – a move which Will Butcher would pathetically replicate on the goal by Ryan Lindgren.
So, these are our veterans. Andreas Johnsson is not getting better than he is now at age 26. That ship has sailed – and the Devils don’t need a guy to play panic defense and miss the net all night. It’s bad enough that Nico Hischier is coming off of consecutive injuries and has barely played this year, looking like a hobbled version of himself. But to saddle him with someone so inept with the puck of late – not even in reference to his other winger, Miles Wood – is just sad.