The Devils blew two multiple goal leads at MSG last night and are 2-1-2 in their last five games. New Jersey is struggling for the first time since early October.
Losing is never fun. Blowing multiple two goal leads really sucks. Doing it against the Rangers is an absolute nightmare. The Devils played sloppily last night and paid the price against our hated cross river rivals. Team defense has been a concerning downward trend over the last few games, resulting in more high dangers scoring chances against the Devils goalies. As I pointed out in my last blog about the loss to the Islanders, the Devils have been sloppy, and sometimes lazy, in their own zone recently. It has cost the team goals in the game and points in the standings.
Jonas Siegenthaler got caught too far up in play while the Rangers were breaking out, allowing Kreider to get behind him and join Trocheck for a two on one rush against Dougie Hamilton. Meanwhile Yegor Sharangovich and Alex Holtz were slow getting back in the play, all resulting in Kreider being wide open for a pass, which he one timed passed Vanecek. Can’t blame Vanecek at all here. It was a very good pass from Trockeck to a wide open teammate across the ice. Had Siegenthaler started moving back earlier, he would have been in better position to defend Kreider and keep that cross ice pass from getting there or the shot from getting off cleanly. Siegenthaler is usually an excellent defensive defenseman but he was too agresive on this play when he should have been backing off to defend the rush.
The second Ranger goal was a deflected shot from the point on a power they got from the benefit of a soft interference call against the Devils. Sucks, but it happens. Not too upset about that one. This third goal, which came only seven seconds after the second one, is inexcusable. The Devils were confused from the second the puck dropped. Jesper Boqvist fell down, Dougie Hamilton was way too agresive, immediately crossing the red line to try and fore check K’Andre Miller and was easily beaten, creating an odd man rush towards Vanecek. Both Jack Hughes and Jonas Siegenthaler failed to break up the cross ice pass and Kappo Kakko was standing all alone to slap the puck past Vanecek. That is embarrassing as all hell. To allow a goal and then immediately panic so bad that you allow arguably the biggest draft bust of the last decade to score an easy goal. The Devils were completely flat footed here and lost all sense of positioning and defensive hockey. Ruff probably should have called a time out here to let the guys get their heads on straight but thankfully the rest of the period was uneventful and the third period started as a 3-3 tie.
The overtime goal that cost the Devils the game was once again defensive laziness. Tomas Tatar made sure to stay far away from Panarin and give him as much time and space as necessary to find a shooting or passing lane. Meanwhile, Damon Severson failed to step up on Chytil and allowed him to get off a clean wrist shot on Vanecek. Vanecek maybe could have had this one but the Devils still should have defended it far better. The Devils also controlled the puck in the Rangers zone for almost two minutes just before this goal but didn’t do much besides skate a few laps. No real high dangers chances created despite all of that possession. Honestly, it looked like a real lack of urgency from New Jersey when they were controlling the puck.
So that game was ugly and the Devils have hit a bit of a rough stretch in the last five games. Despite that, the Devils still sit in first place in the division and are well above the playoff line. Collecting 80% or more of the possible points all season was never realistic, although it would have been nice. It’s hard to win games in the NHL and with about 35% of the season completed, the Devils are in first place in their division. That doesn’t mean the team isn’t flawed, they absolutely are. The bottom six forwards have especially struggled lately. Both Alexander Holtz and Yegor Sharangovich have been negative impacts on recent games. They haven’t created any offensive chances, they have taken penalties, and been weak defensively. The overall team defense has fallen off significantly from where they were earlier in the year, and the urgency to score in overtime certainly wasn’t there last night. With that being said, The Devils are still first place in the division and in no serious danger of falling out of the playoff picture anytime soon. They have a quick turnaround, welcoming Dallas to Newark tonight before the Flyers come to town on Thursday and the Panthers on Saturday. If the Devils can win two of those three games, things will be looking up again. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth