There are games that a team loses and they’re just shrugged aside. Then, there are bad losses like the one the Rangers had in Newark earlier this afternoon. They blew a two-goal lead after two periods to lose in brutal fashion 4-3 to the more determined Devils in overtime at The Prudential Center.
In the third and final meeting of the regular season due to the ridiculous NHL schedule, it was the Jersey side of the Hudson Rivalry that dug deep to prevail on Damon Severson’s overtime winner at 2:47. The veteran defenseman picked up a loose puck in his zone ane came two-on-one and rifled the unassisted goal by hard luck loser Igor Shesterkin to snap the Devils’ eight-game home losing streak.
By rallying back from a 3-1 deficit on goals from stars Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes (2 goals and assist), the Devils gave their fans plenty to cheer about in a great atmosphere of 16,514 that was fairly split between both sides. That’s what makes it a unique rivalry. To hear Severson tell it, nothing beats these games.
Too bad there aren’t more. You know. If common sense actually prevailed in a league that prioritizes playing the other conference twice and the division in their conference basically as many games (3) as division rivals. Well, at least in our case, the Rangers have now concluded their regular season series with the Islanders and Devils. Both lasting three games. At least there’s four versus the Caps with three remaining.
In losing the game, the Rangers blew an opportunity to pass the rival Devils in the standings. However, once they choked away the two-goal lead and went to overtime, it guaranteed that the Jersey side of the rivalry would stay in second place due to a game at hand and the first tiebreaker of regulation wins.
Instead of picking themselves up and winning it, they found a way to lose. Mika Zibanejad missed high and wide on a breakaway on Vitek Vanecek early in the three-on-three, it was just a matter of time before the Devils won it. Neither Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin could beat Vanecek, who steadied after allowing three goals on 15 shots. He stopped the last 19 including all 11 in the third period.
For all the talk about the edge they have in net, Shesterkin lost twice against the Devils in the three match-ups. He allowed three or more in every game, giving up 11 goals on 109 shots (.899 save percentage) with a 3.61 GAA. It isn’t about him as much as it is about how his team has played. An indictment on the team defense and checking.
The Devils were without key defenseman John Marino (week-to-week) and checking forward Nathan Bastian. The Rangers had a full lineup, but still didn’t prevail. It wasn’t about the younger players making mistakes either. Rather experienced veterans who played a role in the Devils coming back.
Barclay Goodrow is the biggest scapegoat. A reliable checking forward who Gerard Gallant trusts to use in close games, it was his bone-headed mistake that let the Devils back in the game.
After Julien Gauthier had scored his sixth from Adam Fox and Goodrow to give the Blueshirts an undeserved 2-0 lead early in the second period, it was Goodrow who made a big mistake.
Following a failed power play with Miles Wood off for interference, Goodrow inexplicably threw the puck from inside the Devils zone back to the Rangers zone. His foolish back pass somehow wound up right on the stick of Hughes, who then scored his 25th unassisted at 9:24 to get the Devils back in the game. The goal should’ve read:
NJD Jack Hughes (25) EV from NYR Barclay Goodrow at 9:24.
It was mind-numbing. Why Goodrow passed back without noticing that he had no teammate open but Hughes is a mystery. I’m not interested in the explanation. However, I do have a question for the coach. We’ll get to that later.
Up till that point, it was Shesterkin who kept the Devils off the scoreboard. He made 19 big saves in a lopsided first that included a five-on-three for 1:27. He had to be very good during the opening period.
Jimmy Vesey got the Rangers off to a good start by scoring against his former team just 1:34 in. A few days removed from a well deserved contract extension for two more years, Vesey was the recipient of a good feed from Alexis Lafreniere in the Devils zone. He then made a nice move and beat Vanecek stick side for his seventh.
It’s amazing how well he’s played. Good for him. Credit Jacob Trouba with a key secondary helper. He made a good outlet up to Lafreniere, who was able to set up Vesey for the opening tally.
Following the goal, it was mostly Devils. They sure dictated play during a hectic first for Shesterkin, who was dialed in. He denied Hughes twice and then stopped Nico Hischier in tight on a tough backhand rebound of an Ondrej Palat shot. He recently returned to the Devils lineup.
That’s how the period went. It was Shesterkin called upon often to make big stops. It included a few more on Hischier, Bratt and Hughes when they were on the power play. Bratt came close to tying it. But his shot rang off the crossbar with over a minute left.
Somehow, the Blueshirts escaped the period leading by one. They could thank their goalie. Shesterkin has had to work extremely hard in many games. Too much so. He shouldn’t have to bail out this team time and time again. The defense must be more consistent along with puck management and team discipline. If that doesn’t improve, they have little chance of getting far in the playoffs.
After being out-shot 19-9, they were better during the second period. Able to pick up their play, the Rangers doubled their lead thanks to some nice work from the checking line. After Fox took a Goodrow feed in transition, he made a great pass in front for a cutting Gauthier, who did the rest by sticking with it to score a nice goal that made it 2-0 at 3:28.
It was a great effort. Gauthier has improved on these kind of power moves to the net and gotten rewarded. While he isn’t the best finisher, he certainly has made the organization look good for believing in him. He earned a spot after being recalled and has been a good secondary scorer. Combine that with Vesey and that’s 13 goals from two unexpected sources.
But in a better period they held an 11-6 edge in shots, they couldn’t convert on a key power play. Then came the costly Goodrow mistake. I don’t know what he was thinking. It was a very bad decision to back pass in that spot. I’m not a fan of that play. It can only lead to trouble.
Goodrow’s pass allowed Hughes to easily pick it off and cut in on both an unsuspecting Ben Harpur and Braden Schneider and zip one past Shesterkin upstairs to cut it to 2-1 with 10:36 remaining. It was mindless.
Although Chris Kreider would finish off his 19th in front on a K’Andre Miller rebound thanks to a great cycle started by Mika Zibanejad, it was still only a two-goal game. It should’ve been more.
That Goodrow error was ridiculous. Of course, he never missed a shift. That only applies to select younger players when they mess up. Something every fan of this team would notice at a critical point later.
The Rangers could never put the Devils away. As much as some of our fans bag on their goaltending, Vanecek seems to have a habit of making big saves when his team needs it. He stopped Zibanejad, Vincent Trocheck and Gauthier to keep his team alive. That was a good signing by Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald.
It really could’ve been over. However, Vanecek never allowed the fourth goal. He made a few more big saves to keep the deficit at two in the third.
The Rangers also failed miserably on a power play with Dougie Hamilton in the box for a phantom hook on Trocheck. It was a weak call. Par for the course in this soft and softer league.
Instead of taking advantage, they did absolutely nothing. Panarin missed on a good chance wide from an area he has to hit the net on. Fox had a shot blocked that led to a key Devils clear. The second unit came on with 42 seconds left and never got set up. It was a wasted opportunity.
The turning point came when Kaapo Kakko was nabbed for a tacky slash on Hughes in the neutral zone. Honestly, it wasn’t much. Similar to the Hamilton call. If that’s how they’re going to call it, it cheapens the game.
Be that as it may, the Devils cashed in on their chance. On a good passing play started by Hughes, Hischier found an open Bratt at the top. He fired a laser high inside the post to score the power play goal with 11:32 remaining. That cut it to one.
It only took another 2:04 for the Devils to draw even. On a key face-off win from Dawson Mercer who beat Goodrow, Ryan Graves had a shot deflect right to Hughes who buried it for his second of the game to tie the score.
It was an unlucky bounce for Shesterkin. But that can happen when you fail to finish off a good opponent. The Devils had lost eight consecutive games on home ice. Maybe they were owed a break. They sure got it. Who else would they want with the puck in that spot? With 26 goals, Hughes is on pace for 53 goals.
With the game tied and less than 10 minutes remaining, things tightened up. Even with Trocheck off for a slash on Jonas Siegenthaler, it was the Rangers who got the best opportunity shorthanded. Zibanejad broke free for a bid, but missed over the top. Part of a frustrating day for the top guns.
Predictably, Gallant did something that irked fans. Well, maybe the better word is divided. Not everyone loves Vitaly Kravtsov due to what happened last year in Hartford. However, he went back home and had a good playoffs in the KHL. Then, has handled all the kid treatment well. Even having missed time due to injuries and mysterious scratches, he’s earned a spot on the second line.
Despite again being active on some shifts and nearly setting up Panarin for a goal that would’ve put the game out of reach (Bread Man missed a backhand over the net), Kravtsov was replaced by Goodrow with the game tied. He never saw another shift with 8:18 remaining after Trocheck took a penalty.
Now, here’s the issue. Didn’t Goodrow make a brutal puck decision that led to Hughes’ first goal? Didn’t he also lose a key defensive draw to Mercer, who doesn’t play much center in his second year? That also resulted in Hughes getting his second to tie the game.
I like Goodrow. He’s been a good Ranger. I understand why Gallant loves him. He’s a trusted vet he can rely on and move around. However, he deserved to sit. I’m not alone in this line of thinking.
Chris is one of the really good fans of this team. I’ve known him for over a decade. He is knowledgeable and makes sense. I’m going to introduce something new. Turk’s Buddy System.
What is it? It’s simple. If the coach loves you, you play no matter what. Outside of Kreider, who was demoted during a game to the fourth line because he can take it, no veterans are held accountable. They can turn over pucks, take undisciplined penalties or be invisible during shifts. Gallant will not bench them.
This isn’t exclusive to Panarin, Zibanejad and other key personnel. It extends to Miller, who as good as he’s been offensively lately, he remains an enigma in his end. He’s a defenseman. They rely on him for top minutes. Sometimes, you have to shake it up. We’ve seen Schneider bumped up occasionally. But despite being more solid than Miller, he doesn’t get as many minutes. That should change soon.
We all understand that when push comes to shove, Gallant will cut down to three lines and four or five defensemen. He did it this afternoon. It sure didn’t help them win. Playing Goodrow over Kravtsov was foolish. He went conservative for the point. Well, how did that work out coach? You got burned.
In overtime, we never saw Kakko or Kravtsov. Why would we? Kakko got punished for a weak penalty and Kravtsov was done for the day. Why stick with your most gifted forwards during a three-on-three when you can limit your options?
This is why Rangers fans can’t have nice things. It perfectly explains why nobody ever properly develops. Lafreniere got a shift in OT. That came after Zibanejad reset and then turned on the afterburner to skate in on Vanecek. Of course, he missed wide. No finish from Mika on Saturday.
The duo of Chytil and Lafreniere stayed out for an extended shift. They came on with 3:22 left. After Fox replaced Schneider, critical mistakes were made. Following a save from Shesterkin on Hughes, Lafreniere carried the puck into Devil territory. Looking to make a pass for Chytil, he was blocked by Severson.
It became worse when Lafreniere got blown up inadvertently by Siegenthaler. For the contingent who claimed interference, it wasn’t. The hit was accidental after Lafreniere lost the puck. With him down and Chytil behind, Severson wisely picked up the loose puck and skated two-on-one with Hischier.
Afterwards, he said he was looking pass. However, Fox took it away. Severson made a good shot to win the game.
There isn’t anything else to add. Lafreniere didn’t really have an opening on his attempted pass. I thought it was a poor choice. However, seeing one reaction to his miscalculation made me sick to my stomach. You can be a fan of this team and critique his play. Don’t cross the line with name calling or post offensive terms. That’s childish and pathetic.
It definitely reflects poorly when any fan resorts to that. Especially on a social platform. I won’t say anything else. Lafreniere hasn’t delivered in Year Three. But geez. It’s a damn game. Not life or death. I’ll be attending a wake for someone I knew growing up. That’s very different from the way some overreact to losses. Let it go.
Instead of moving ahead of the Devils into second in the Metro Division, the Rangers got a point and temporarily are ahead of the Caps for third. At the halfway point, they’re 22-12-7 with 51 points. One up on the Caps. Two behind the Devils, who hit the road. Five up on the Islanders, who lost two ugly games in Edmonton and Calgary. The Pens remain seven behind having dropped three in a row. They have three games in hand.
We’ll see what happens. For now, the Rangers return home on Tuesday for Ryan Reaves and the Wild. That should be interesting. The first place Stars also visit Thursday. That’s two good games to start the second half.
Believe it or not, the countdown is on once Game 42 is played. It won’t be long before we’re in February with the trade deadline around the corner. The next few weeks will determine a lot. We’ll find out much more about this team. Ditto for the other five playoff contenders in the division.
Losses like Saturday afternoon happen. The Devils did what they had to do to get the win. Give them credit. It wasn’t good enough from a Rangers perspective. Time to move on.