Normally, these rivalry games are competitive. One has come to expect battles to be fought whenever Hudson rivals meet. That clearly wasn’t the case in what turned into a Rangers’ 5-0 humiliation of the Devils behind another Antti Raanta shutout at MSG.
Making his third straight start, Raanta didn’t have to sweat too much. After stopping 26 shots in a 1-0 overtime shutout against former team Chicago, he made 19 more without allowing a goal in a textbook win that sent the Rangers to a third consecutive win. Since losing at the Islanders 4-2 last Tuesday, coach Alain Vigneault has gone to Raanta over starter Henrik Lundqvist. He’s responded by going three-for-three allowing only one goal on 63 shots.
So, what happens now? Does Vigneault stay with Raanta with the Blackhawks visiting the Garden for a rematch on Tuesday night? Or does he decide to go back to Lundqvist and see if he finally has it back together? That is a tough one to answer. As Derek Stepan pointed out after the game in a post match interview, he’s been here seven years and Lundqvist has been their best player.
While Vigneault has that decision to make, he can take solace knowing his team has responded extremely well after the Islander disappointment. They are playing better defensively. It’s resulted in allowing less shots against and fewer scoring chances. When they have given up opportunities, Raanta has been there to make the big save. On this night, he was good when he had to be making a glove save on Kyle Palmieri and robbing Vernon Fiddler point blank on a two-on-one.
He also benefited from an early Adam Henrique goal 69 seconds in that was wiped out. Conclusive replays showed that Henrique kicked the puck in. It was an easy reversal. Even from our seats, you could tell he kicked it. The thing is he didn’t need to. He was wide open. The Ranger start wasn’t good. There was a moment where the Devils could’ve taken advantage. But they didn’t.
Penalties were called on each side. Taylor Hall went off for high-sticking. Less than a minute later, Chris Kreider got nabbed for goaltender interference. Kind of a dubious call considering he was shoved into Cory Schneider and had nowhere to go. Even though they didn’t get much off a abbreviated power play, the Devils controlled play for the next few shifts. That included a Nick Lappin break in with a sharp Raanta denying him.
For most of the period, the Rangers didn’t sustain much on the forecheck. However, a strong shift from the top line resulted in Kreider beating Schneider five-hole for a 1-0 lead with 3:17 remaining. Some strong play behind the net from Mats Zuccarello allowed him to find Kreider open in front. He was able to beat Schneider with a quick wrist shot for his eighth. He has been playing well for a while. That gives him seven points (4-3-7) in the last six. Kevin Klein gets credit for a good pinch which resulted in the goal. He drew a assist.
Late in the stanza, Devante Smith-Pelly thought he tied the contest. But the refs clearly blew the whistle after Raanta made an initial stop. They thought he had it long enough. The replay showed Smith-Pelly nudge Raanta’s pads pushing the puck in.
From a Devils standpoint, the second was inexplicable. Given chance after chance by an undisciplined Rangers to tie the game, they fired blanks or literally nothing at all. After killing off a Ben Lovejoy delay of game minor, they got their first opportunity when rookie Jimmy Vesey tripped up Sergey Kalinin. They only managed one shot with Palmieri’s shot from the left circle easily gloved by Raanta to chants of “Raa-nn-tta!, Raa–nn–ttaa!”
The second power play came when Marc Staal sent Palmieri flying with another tripping minor with 7:02 left. The Devils couldn’t do anything with the Rangers penalty kill which went a perfect five-for-five. They didn’t get much set up time. When they did have the puck in the Ranger zone, they took way too long to get shots. It was astonishing.
Following Staal returning, Brady Skjei went off for tripping Lappin with 4:04 left. With the Rangers still clinging to a one-goal lead, they had good fortune when Palmieri lost an edge falling to the ice. With him down, Kevin Hayes took advantage skating around the Devils defense and setting up a wide open J.T. Miller for a backhand deflection by Schneider for a shorthanded goal with 3:53 remaining.
As the Devils continued to mystify by only totaling three shots in the period despite three power plays while permitting a shorthanded goal, they nearly got victimized again. Ryan McDonagh led the dangerous Michael Grabner, who went around John Moore like he was a statue and then had Schneider beat but just missed on a backhand deke. It was literally that close to two shorthanded goals allowed on the final Devil power play in the second.
Just when it still seemed like a game, a smart Marek Hrivik shot from distance forced Schneider to cover the puck with eight seconds left. That caused an offensive draw. On it, Vigneault wisely sent out Oscar Lindberg to take it with Stepan the second option. The execution worked perfectly with Lindberg cleanly beating Travis Zajac right to Stepan, who fed an open left point for a Skjei one-timer that deflected off Palmieri past Schneider for his first NHL goal. The goal came with 2.5 seconds left and made it 3-0.
At the start of the third, a Grabner high-stick gave the Devils another power play. But by then, you knew they weren’t going to score. They were punchless. It was a pathetic effort. One which I can only imagine what Hasan was thinking. The Ranger penalty kill is good. They have been strong getting superb efforts from new guys such as Zuccarello, who dove to deny a shot and clear the puck.
It was just a matter of time before Brandon Pirri iced the game by converting a rebound chance in front from Kreider and Ryan McDonagh. Even on a broken play, the Rangers still recovered the puck with McDonagh firing a tough low shot that Schneider kicked out. He then denied Kreider but was unable to stop Pirri, who ended a 12-game goal drought. He hadn’t recorded a point since Mika Zibanejad went down. Pirri wound up with two points also setting up Vesey’s 10th also on the power play with 1:18 left. Nick Holden got the other helper.
By that point, we had already left at the five-minute mark. The game was so uncompetitive, it was shocking. I knew the Devils had issues. But just from watching them live, you could see what Hasan’s talking about. The lack of confidence. They don’t shoot the puck enough and are susceptible defensively. It’s easy to see why they’re struggling. In fact, counting Sunday night, the Devils have allowed 47 goals over the last 12 games. The most over that stretch in the league.
They barely competed. That simply won’t cut it in an ultra competitive Metro Division where other teams ahead of them keep winning. That includes the Flyers, who reeled off their ninth in a row with a 1-0 overtime shutout of the Red Wings on a Brayden Schenn goal. That also includes the Blue Jackets, who after dismantling the Islanders 6-2 on Saturday, have now won six straight. In only 26 games, they’re 17-5-4 with 38 points which is three behind the Rangers, who just played game number 30. With the division so tight with four total points separating first from fifth Washington, New Jersey has their work cut out.
That includes Schneider, who has continued to allow more goals than we’re used to seeing. The Devils defense has suffered without Adam Larsson. They continue to allow more shots than they’re getting. Tonight, the Rangers outshot them 31-19 and out-attempted them 60-41. That just won’t cut it.
As for the Blueshirts, they have to be pleased with where they are. Even with Lundqvist sitting out, Raanta has won three in a row and they’re 20-9-1 with their 41 points tied with Montreal for the most in the NHL. Chicago has 40 to lead the West.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Antti Raanta, NYR (19 save shutout-2nd straight-3-0 in last 3 starts stopping 62 of 63 shots)
2nd Star-Oscar Lindberg, NYR (assisted on Skjei’s 1st NHL goal by winning huge draw to make it 3-0 with 2.5 seconds left in 2nd, 3 shots, 5 attempts, 11-and-7 on draws, +1 in 2- shifts-13:41 including 12:00 EV, 1:01 PP, 40 seconds SH)
1st Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (goal-8th of season, assist, 3 shots, 5 attempts, +1 in 22 shifts-15:51 including 11:24 EV, 4:27 PP)
Notes: Devils controlled face-offs 32-27 with Zajac going 18-for-26 but lost a critical one to Lindberg late in second that led to Skjei’s goal. Both Lindberg (11-and-7) and Hayes (9-and-5) were good for the Rangers. … Key Stat: Giveaways Devils 17 (Parenteau 3) Rangers 10 (Holden/Skjei 2). … In his first game in the Battle of Hudson, Taylor Hall went without a point with two shots and five attempts including a wild miss on the power play. … It was a rough night for Palmieri, who wound up minus-two including having Skjei’s goal go off him and falling down on Miller’s shorthanded goal. … Every Blueshirt played at least 11 minutes including Nicklas Jensen (11:15 in 17 shifts). … Lappin and Klein had a scrap late that I didn’t see. … Power Play Comparison Devils 0-5 Rangers 2-6. … Schneider allowed five goals on 31 shots. The second straight loss he gave up five. In that one, he made 44 saves in a 5-2 loss at Montreal. Schneider has allowed at least three-or-more in eight of his last nine starts. He’s given up 3-plus in 12 of 21 games. … Devils (12-10-6) get a much needed three day break before playing three games in four days with a Thursday visit at St. Louis. They play at Ottawa next Saturday and conclude a three-game road swing back at MSG for a Sunday rematch.