The Devils opened their 2018-19 preseason with a pair of split-squad games tonight with half the team home against the Rangers and half up in Montreal taking on the Canadiens. There was a difference of a half hour between the games, as the Rangers puck drop was 7 PM while the Habs game started at 7:30 PM.
Rick Kowalsky was coaching the Devils in New Jersey with John Hynes staying at Prudential Center to observe both games from a management suite. Alain Nasredine coached the team up in Montreal, I am going to assume.
First the Rangers game. The Devils dropped the game to their arch rivals in overtime 4-3 despite holding three leads on the night. Nick Lappin scored two goals while John Quenneville completed two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hatrick with a goal and a fight.
Lappin lifted the seal on the new season when he scored just 5:14 into the game from Blake PIetila and Eric Gryba. The goal came when Pietila rushed up the left wing boards, beating a Rangers player to a loose puck. He fed a wide open Lappin in the slot, who did not miss, beating Rangers goaltender Alexander Georgiev to make it 1-0 Devils.
But in what would become a pattern throughout the night, New York tied things up at the 14:00 mark of the first when Lias Andersson scored his first of two, shorthanded on a breakaway, to tie things at one. The goal was unassisted.
Before the first period was out, however, the Devils would retake the lead. On the same Devils power play that Andersson scored shorthaned – a Steven Fogarty holding penalty – Quenneville scored a power play goal. It came with assists to Ty Smith and Brian Boyle at 14:52. It came when Quenneville curled around at the far half wall and gave to Smith at the point. They played catch before Smith gave the puck back to Quenneville who fired one from the top of the far faceoff circle to give the Devils back the lead, 2-1.
Prior to his goal, at the 5:34 mark of the first, Quenneville had come to the aid of a teammate who was rocked on a thunderous (but clean) hit by the Rangers’ Rob O’Gara. They dropped the mitts and Quenneville would get the extra penalty, a cross checking penalty, to put the Rangers on the power play. The two teams would seemingly beat a path to the penalty box all night, as the Rangers racked up 19 penalty minutes on the night while the Devils got 17 PIMs as a team.
The Devils entered the second period with a 2-1 lead, but the Rangers were on the power play. Egor Iavkolev had been called for slashing at 19:00 and just 17 seconds in to the new frame, Kevin Rooney went off for hooking. That gave the Rangers a 5-on-3 power play that the Devils would kill off.
But New York would tie the game up on the power play anyway at 9:12. Rooney was serving another hooking penalty when Pavel Buchnevich scored to tie the game at two apiece. He got an assist from Kevin Hayes. That was the only scoring of the second period, but the Rangers would switch their goalies out in the middle session. They took out Georgiev, who made 16 saves on 18 shots against and put in Marek Mazanec. He would go on to stop 8 of 9 Devils shots.
The Devils would make a goaltending change of their own at the beginning of the third period when they took out Keith Kinkaid who made 14 saves on 16 shots on goal through 40 minutes and swapped him for Cam Johnson. He ended up stopping 10 of 12. The Rangers finished the game with 28 shots on goal while the Devils were right there with them with 27.
The third period was a period of the power play units. First, Lappin scored his second of the game on a power play at the 5:24 mark from Michael McLeod and Smith (who also finished the night with two points – the two assists). It came when New York’s Tony DeAngelo was called for interference at 4:20 of the third and, with the extra man, Smith gave the puck to McLeod at the near half wall. He found a seam and made a nice pass to Lappin in the slot, who fired a snap shot by Mazanec to make it 3-2 Devils.
But less than a minute later, at 5:42, Gryba took a hooking call and the Rangers were back on the power play. Here, Andersson scored his second of the game from Chris Kreider and Hayes to tied things up at three. The Devils just could not shake the Rangers all night.
Midway through the third, Gryba would rock Boo Nieves with a big hit where their heads unintentionally collided. Nieves would leave the game for the Rangers’ locker room and would not return.
Taylor Hall had a chance to give the Devils the lead late when he fired a shot on a partial breakaway that beat Mazanek and trickled by him, but was swept away by a Ranger before it could cross the goal line.
Cam Johnson looked good late in the game with a few good saves, including a some early in the overtime period. Neal Pionk would win it for the Rangers in the OT off a nice feed from Buchnevich. Jesper Fast had the secondary assist. The Devils had fallen in this game 4-3.
In a game filled with penalties, New York ended the night 2-for-6 on the power play while the Devils were 2-for-7 with the extra attacker. The Devils played the more physical game, out-hitting the Rangers 25 to 15. Sami Vatanen led the Devils in ice time in this game with 22:17 while Jesper Bratt led the forwards with 21:31. Vatanen also led in shots with four.
Now up to Montreal, where the Devils fell 3-1 to the Habs. This one saw the Devils grab the early 1-0 lead and then squander it by giving up three in the third period.
Blake Speers opened the scoring for the Devils in this one, scoring unassisted at 6:42 of the first shorthanded. Marcus Johansson was called for holding at 5:58 and, on the ensuing penalty kill, Speers picked off a point-to-point pass in the Devils end and raced up ice, beating Montreal goalie Anti Niemi to make it 1-0. Niemi would make eight saves on nine Devils shots in 30:56 of work while Charlie Lindgren played the rest of the game for the Canadiens and stopped all eight shots he faced.
For the Devils in net, Eddie Lack started and stopped all 13 shots he saw while Mackenzie Blackwood came in in the third period and made nine saves on twelve shots against. In total, the Devils had 17 shots on net while the Canadiens had 25.
The score remained the same through to the third when the wheels fell off for the Devils, all in a span of about two minutes. At 3:08, Victor Mete scored to tie it up from Michael Chaput and Jacob de la Rose. At 4:11, Charles Hudon scored to give the Habs the 2-1 lead and Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored an insurance goal at 4:40 from Rinat Valiev and Simon Despres to give us our final of 3-1.
Neither team scored on the man advantage, the Devils going 0-for-4 and Montreal going 0-for-3. Damon Severson led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 24:01 while Pavel Zacha led the forwards with 20:40. No player had more than two shots on goal for the Devils. Proof that the Devils want to see more from these two players by giving them more responsibilities.
A disappointing night (in terms of final score) for Devils fans, but the Rangers game in particular showed some signs that the younger kids might just have what it takes to compete and gave some hope. Next up, the Devils travel to Brooklyn for a preseason tilt against the Islanders on Thursday. The Rangers game was the lone home preseason game the Devils will play this year.