With the Devils’ rough loss to Columbus last night, they were looking to right the ship against their Hudson River rivals as they traveled to the Garden on a snowy night in the New Jersey/New York area. Usually, a rivalry game would cure exactly what ails a team, but there are two sides to a rivalry. The Rangers were also coming off of a loss last night (to the Washington Capitals) and were also looking to right their ship. For Devils fans, things would not go quite as planned. The Rangers came away with the 5-2 win on a Saturday night in New York City.
The uphill battle would be there for the Devils to begin with. The Rangers have won nine of their last ten on Garden ice. And speaking of the Garden’s ice, it was not very good tonight, as the puck was bouncing everywhere. Apparently, according to Ken Daneyko, there was a college basketball game earlier this afternoon and that negatively affected the ice. But both teams have to play on the surface, no matter how bad it is, so that is not an excuse for New Jersey.
One milestone that I neglected to mention from last night’s game, as Taylor Hall played in his 100th game as a New Jersey Devil last evening versus the Blue Jackets. Tonight was his 101st. Also, with last night’s loss and the Capitals’ win over the Rangers, both Columbus and Washington leapfrogged the Devils, moving them into third place in the Metropolitan Division coming into tonight’s game. They remained there after tonight’s loss since Washington did not play, the Penguins and Islanders both lost and only the Jackets won (but they were already in first place so it really did not matter, they just gained a point). The Rangers, however, continue to climb back into the race after a rough start to their season with this win.
Roster-wise, Drew Stafford was out in favor of Pavel Zacha (who ended up playing a decent game after sitting for a few games – coach John Hynes wanted to see more consistency in his competitiveness) and Dalton Prout and Steven Santini sat on defense. Ben Lovejoy slotted back in on defense.
Goaltending saw the Devils go to Keith Kinkaid for the second half of a back-to-back. He made 34 saves on 39 Ranger shots. New York went right back to Henrik Lundqvist in the second half of their back-to-back. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he was starting simply because it was a “big game.” He made 26 saves on 28 Devils shots.
And Lundqvist would get some support too. The Rangers broke the seal on the game just 6:14 into the game when Jimmy Vesey scored from Paul Carey and Boo Nieves to make it 1-0. Kinkaid would follow up that goal with a nice save on Rick Nash on a breakaway.
The second period began with a bit of a scare when Andy Greene was hit in the ear with a puck. He was okay and would not miss a shift, however. There was also an incident that saw Miles Wood bump Lundqvist on a breakaway only for Kevin Shattenkirk to take exception. The two got into a shoving and wrestling match and Wood would eventually go off with a double minor for roughing while Shattenkirk got just two minutes (also for roughing). The Rangers would not score on that power play and ended up 0-for-3 on the night – the same as the Devils. New York had five power play shots while New Jersey had four.
The Devils had two nice chances in the middle of the second period, first when a Brian Gibbons shot beat Lundqvist and trickled slowly towards the goal line, seemingly on its way to tying things. However, Mats Zuccarello was “johnny on the spot” for the Rangers and cleared the puck. Next, Blake Coleman would nick the post and send the puck just wide, denying the Devils another chance at tying things at one. Immediately following that chance, however, the Rangers’ Jesper Fast capitalized and made it 2-0 at 9:42 when he scored from Nash.
It would take until the 13:45 mark of the second, but the Devils would finally get on the board and cut the New York lead in half when Damon Severson scored his fourth of the year to make it 2-1. It came when Brian Boyle dug the puck out of near corner. It squibbed out to Coleman, who gave to Stefan Noesen. Noesen went back to the far point to Severson, who let loose a shot that scorched by Lundqvist to put the Devils on the board.
Unfortunately for the Devils, things would begin to unravel from there and it began with a puck that clanged off of the post. The Rangers were killing off a delay of game penalty when Marcus Johansson hit the post in the New York end. Seconds later, just as the Devils power play had ended, Zuccarello stole the puck in the New Jersey zone from Severson, skated right in and roofed it by Kinkaid to make it 3-1 Rangers. That goal was unassisted at 16:03 of the second.
Zuccarello would strike again for his second of the game just 6:21 into the third period. He scored from JT Miller and Ryan McDonagh to make it 4-1.
The Devils would again answer back when Miles Wood scored 13 seconds after Zuccarello’s second goal to make it 4-2. That one came when the Rangers tried to wind the puck out of their zone and Zacha knocked it down. Will Butcher picked up the loose puck and gave back to Zacha at the top of the far faceoff circle. He threaded the needle to Wood, who was standing at the far side of Lundqvist’s goal cage. He slammed it home to cut the Ranger lead in half.
But a Devils comeback was not to be. At the 11:59 mark, Kevin Hayes scored from Nash and Fast to make it 5-2 and send the Rangers fans home happy. Time ticked down and the Devils were dealt their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season and their third regulation loss in four games.
Time on ice was led by Severson, who had 21:29; shots on goal was a five way tie between Nico Hischier, Zacha, Gibbons, Wood and Butcher, who each had three; and hits were led by Coleman with four. The Devils dominated in the faceoff circle for a change, winning 62-percent of the game’s faceoffs.
Next up, the Devils return home to Prudential Center on Tuesday to take on the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Kings. This will be another test against another good team to see if the Devils can get off of their slide. Due to prior obligations, I will be a little bit late getting this game up, as I have to watch a recording of it. Hopefully for Devils fans, however, this game will yield a W and get them two points back into the Metropolitan race.