Devils Complete Thrilling Comeback to Top Rangers

The Devils overcame multiple two goal deficits to defeat that poverty franchise from Manhattan and remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division.

What! A! Game! Vitek Vanecek played well, Jack Hughes is superhuman, and the Devils overcame several self inflicted wounds to get a big win at home over our hated cross river rivals. The Devils fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 due in large part to their poor defensive play and an almost complete unwillingness to play the body. However, Vanecek made some big saves and Jack Hughes led his team to victory, nearly by himself.

Brendan Smith cost the Devils this goal. Vesey is coming into the Devils zone one on three, Nikita Okhotiuk was back, and Brendan Smith was the closest defender to Vesey. Smith should have stepped up to hit Vesey and separate him from the puck. Instead, he chose to apply no pressure as he backed off of Vesey with his stick lazily out stretched, giving Vesey plenty of time and space to pick his spot to fire the puck. Vanecek maybe could have stopped this shot, but Smith should have prevented this shot from even getting off Vesey’s stick. This lack of physicality costing the Devils would be a running theme throughout this afternoon’s game and has been an issue for most of this season. The win today does not change the fact the Devils mentality has to change. They have plenty of size and need to play more physical if they have any desire to be a playoff contender.

Poor defensive effort cost the Devils the second Rangers goal as well. Dougie Hamilton was just gliding back instead of actually skating hard and moving his feet. As a result, he was not in position able to catch up to Gauthier as he dangled the puck around Vanecek. Earlier in the play, Siegenthaler chose not to step up on Goodrow, allowing him to make the pass to Gauthier. So between Hamilton’s lack of effort in skating and Siegenthaler’s refusal to play the body, the Devils were now down 2-0. The Rangers did a good job exposing the Devils fear of physical play today. Thank god we have Jack Hughes.

The Rangers regained a two goal lead shortly after Jack Hughes took advantage of a bad Ranger turnover to make it a one goal game. Once again, the Devils played like absolute garbage in their own end and it cost them a goal. Not only does Ryan Graves get caught puck watching and completely lose Chris Kreider leaving him all alone on the back door, but he did nothing to stop K’Andre Miller from walking right up to the crease and sliding the puck to Kreider. Graves wasn’t alone in his refusal to play physical as just about every Devils player on the ice did everything they possibly could to get out of the way and avoid any form of physical contact with any Ranger player. These defensive lapses and fear of physical contact gifted the Rangers one point in the standings as a result of this game. Thankfully, we have Jack Hughes and they don’t, so the Devils left The Rock with the extra point.

Jack Hughes is once again an NHL All Star. He is a super star in this league. He is border line superhuman. Jack Hughes is HIM. With 19 goals in his last 20 games, including 8 goals in his last 5 games, Jack Hughes is building an impressive case for the Hart Trophy. He is on pace for over 100 points and over 50 goals so far this season. In this afternoon’s game against the Rangers, Hughes had two goals and one assist as well as 10 shots on goal in almost 23 minutes of ice time. He is far and away the most important player on the team and as the Devils push for the playoffs, Hughes should be considered for the Hart Trophy. Outside of McDavid, it’s tough to find a player who means more to their team than Hughes means to New Jersey right now. The Devils looked dead and buried twice this afternoon and each time Jack led them back from the brink of defeat with stellar individual efforts.

Jack Hughes is doing it all right now but he needs help. The Devils are seriously lacking secondary scoring lately. Yegor Sharangovich only has 2 goals in his last 15 games, Dawson Mercer hasn’t scored in 12 games, Tomas Tatar only has 2 goals in the last 12 games, and Erik Haula has just two goals all year. The Devils cannot count solely on Hughes, Hischier and Bratt to account for all of the offense. If the Devils secondary forwards don’t start scoring soon Tom Fitzgerald needs to find a way to replace them with guys who can score at least somewhat consistently as soon as possible. All great players need a solid supporting cast around them to have real success in this league.

It’s never a bad time to be in second place in the division and being there after 40 games is far better than I or anyone else expected the Devils to be this year. That doesn’t change the fact that the Devils are a seriously flawed team. The defense is unreliable, the team as a whole is soft and afraid of contact, and they lack depth scoring on a consistent basis. The Devils are in a good position right now but the playoffs are far from guaranteed and there is plenty of room for improvement. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth.

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