Game #4: A Devilishly disappointing loss for Blueshirts


Mackenzie Blackwood makes one of 29 saves to lift the Devils to their first win of the season. They defeated the Rangers 5-2. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Devils

There are going to be nights like this over the 82-game schedule. I understand the situation with this team. The harsh reality for fans is that the Rangers are a work in progress. Even with key additions Artemiy Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox and promising teenager Kaapo Kakko, they are a flawed team.

It showed in the loss to the improved Oilers last century last Saturday. It also showed even in imperfect wins against Winnipeg and Ottawa. Well, tonight was very disappointing. Not just because it was a 5-2 loss to the hated Devils, who had to get a win sometime. Of course, it came against them. It was the way they lost that bothered me.

I can live with losses if it’s a consistent effort over 60 minutes. I can even deal with coach David Quinn’s explanations for why former first round pick Lias Andersson didn’t play enough in the first three games. As promised, he found more ice time for the seventh pick in the 2017 Draft. That was about the only positive anyone could take from a second straight defeat to even the Rangers at 2-2-0 over a laughable four games.

Nothing was good enough. Not after Quinn stopped scrimmages at practice due to being unsatisfied with the lack of tempo. Don’t blame the layoff either. That’s not an excuse for lousy special teams with the power play continuing to fire blanks after a good start. They went 0 for 6 due to being way too predictable.

Does every single one have to revolve around Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Trouba? All they do is look to set up the big right shots from the off side. What about Chris Kreider? Does he still play for this team? How many times does Pavel Buchnevich have to be out for too long on the top unit while Kakko waits until his second unit gets garbage time? Ugh. Buchnevich has four total shots in four games. Hardly enough for all the favorable ice time he gets.

The Devils also converted their first power play goal. So, they won the battle of special teams and got the better of the first match up between Kakko and top pick Jack Hughes. Hughes finally got his first NHL point. It was an impactful one with the rookie center able to deflect a Matt Tennyson shot that also went off Miles Wood for the game-winner. Congrats to him on his first assist. He centered the Devils top line with Nico Hischier (LBI) out.

In a battle of second-year goalies, Mackenzie Blackwood outplayed Alexandar Georgiev. He made 29 saves including some timely ones like his pad stop on a dangerous Zibanejad one-timer on a key penalty kill. Georgiev wasn’t his usual self. He gave up a flukey tying goal to Blake Coleman on a breakaway. The shot hit off his mask and took a weird bounce through his five-hole. I’ve never seen that before. It was strange. It wasn’t his fault as Fox had a bad neutral zone turnover that led to Coleman’s third of the season.

The Rangers got off to a good start thanks to some strong work from Andersson. He kept a forecheck going by playing a loose puck behind the net. A smart pinch by Brady Skjei saw him center the puck which Buchnevich got a piece of. Eventually, a pinching Tony DeAngelo got to the rebound and chipped it in for a 1-0 lead. They could’ve added to it by creating some more scoring chances including a pair for Fox, who made a bid for his first NHL point. But he didn’t have any luck.

It wasn’t long before Fox tried one of those risky passes in the neutral zone. As well as he’s played, that was a valuable lesson learned. It trapped everyone including Andersson, who trailed the play with Fox as Coleman fired the bizarre tying goal off Georgiev’s mask and in. Maybe he should take pointers from Henrik Lundqvist, who’ll make the start tonight at Washington. Uh oh. The schedule makers didn’t do the team any favors.

There were a lot of undisciplined penalties from these two Hudson rivals. It wasn’t the cleanest game. Good players from both teams took unnecessary minors. Some of the gripes we saw was ridiculous. These were legit calls. Yes. I’m pointing at you Ryan Strome, Panarin and Jesper Fast. Ditto for Taylor Hall and Palmieri. There was one run from Hall where he caught Fox up high behind the net that resulted in Skjei taking up for his fallen teammate. Hall got the extra for elbowing. It didn’t matter due to the anemic power play. God. Were they predictable.

I think the Devils were 0 for 20 until Palmieri took advantage of a face-off win and found a rebound to go short side top shelf on a surprised Georgiev for a 2-1 lead. I’m not sure how it was unassisted. How did the puck go off Georgiev? It was odd.

The most perplexing aspect of the game was the second period was the Rangers’ best. They carried a lot of the play at five-on-five and had enough opportunities. However, Blackwood got the job done by stopping all 15 Ranger shots in a second they held a 15-9 advantage. Instead of tying it and regaining momentum, Hughes won a offensive draw and got a stick on a Tennyson shot that changed direction twice before going off Wood in front for a 3-1 New Jersey lead.

The Devils were better in the third, but nearly blew the two-goal lead. On a sustained forecheck started by third liner Brendan Smith, Strome wisely got a backhand shot by Tennyson right to an open Fast, who backhanded home his first into an open side that cut the deficit to one. I said Fast needed one. Maybe that’ll get him going. It was the second straight game Strome earned a primary assist on a goal. Not bad for a player the chart nerds root against bash illogically. That’s NYR Twitter.

On a penalty kill, the Rangers nearly had the game tied. Their best shorthanded threat Zibanejad got a great chance on a mini break. He patiently held onto the puck and seemed to have an aggressive Blackwood dead to rights. But he must’ve gotten a piece of it to keep it out. I thought for sure it was 3-3. However, Zibanejad just missed. That was the turning point.

Following a Devils power play that expired, Panarin tried to get the puck out. But his clearing attempt was fanned on due to a broken twig. Nikita Gusev quickly pounced on the turnover and shot five-hole on a shaky Georgiev for a unassisted tally that made it 4-2. That was the crusher.

Much hungrier to the puck, the Devils did a much better job on the forecheck. They controlled most of the play with a 15-6 shots edge. Well, really 14-6 until PK Subban ended matters with his first as a Devil into a vacated net with over 47 seconds left.

They won because they were the better team overall. So, the first installment of four goes to the Jersey side. Too bad there’s only three more meetings. Hopefully, both teams will improve throughout the season.

From a Rangers standpoint, it wasn’t good enough. At least Andersson played more due to all the penalties. He received 19 shifts for 12:46 overall including 3:52 shorthanded. Hopefully, Brendan Lemieux will be back in the lineup over Michael Haley. Oy.

At least it wasn’t the Yankees offense against the Astros. Holy moly.

Hudson Rivalry 3 🌟:

3rd 🌟 Ryan Strome, Rangers (primary assist on Fast’s goal, 2 SOG, 5-and-2 on faceoffs in 15:08)

2nd 🌟 Jack Hughes, Devils (first career NHL assist on Wood’s GWG, 2 SOG, 2 takeaways in 18 shifts-13:09)

1st 🌟 Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils (29 saves including 15/15 in 2nd for first win of season)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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