The New Jersey Devils earned a point in last night’s shootout loss to the New York Rangers. Jesper Bratt, Dougie Hamilton and Pavel Zacha all scored for New Jersey. Mackenzie Blackwood was pulled in the third period of the game by concussion spotters after a collision with Kaapo Kakko.
It was an unfortunate situation for both Devils’ goaltenders. As of last night’s press conference, the Devils did not have an update on Blackwood. Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier played the last 13 minutes of the game, overtime, and a seven-round shootout. It was Chris Kreider who scored the winning goal for the Rangers securing their two points. Like any loss, there are things not to like, but there were a few positives starting with the Devils ace in the hole in the faceoff circle.
Michael McLeod Is an Asset in the Faceoff Circle
Michael McLeod is not getting enough credit for what he has done this season. He may have two points on the season, but he has been the Devils’ secret weapon in the faceoff circle. He leads all team centers with a faceoff percentage of 59.91, and is currently ranked 25th in the league.
During last night’s game, McLeod found himself taking a faceoff 16 times. He battled against Ryan Strome, Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere, Barclay Goodrow and Kevin Rooney. He only lost three times, and finished the game with a faceoff percentage of 81 percent, which led all Devils players. For overtime, New Jersey actually put McLeod on the ice simply to take the faceoff and return to the bench. The coaching staff has put a lot of trust in the 23-year-old forward.
Dawson Mercer Is Not Playing Like a Rookie
People around the league are beginning to notice Dawson Mercer. I can recall sitting at RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House in September watching the early days of Devils training camp. A scout was sitting next to me and asked what I thought of Mercer. I said I liked him, and I think he has a good chance of making the team. His response was that Mercer needs to play, and needs to be wherever he can get time on ice. Last night, he was on the ice for 19:20, which was the second most among all forwards.
Currently the Newfoundland native is third among all rookies in the league with 11 points. Last night, he earned the primary assist on Bratt’s first-period goal. It seems that every time Mercer has the puck he is able to make magic happen. His line with Bratt and Andreas Johnsson has been New Jersey’s best line, and a big part of their success is the confident play of 20-year-old Mercer.
Poor Puck Management Hurts the Devils
After the Devils’ victory over the Florida Panthers, I sat in the media room at Prudential Center, and grabbed the microphone to ask head coach Lindy Ruff his thoughts on his team’s passing and puck management. He responded by saying there are a few places he would like to clean up. Three games later the Devils’ head coach was not thrilled with his team’s puck management against the Rangers.
During the postgame press conference he was asked how he would judge his team’s performance and puck management against their division rival.
“Average,” said coach Ruff to media. “I talked to the team after the first, I talked to the team after the second. Again, puck management on the third goal is something we definitely have to get better. We gotta manage the puck better, and not give up those types of opportunities when we have the puck. Handing the other team those types of opportunities will catch up to you.”
New Jersey finished the second period with eight giveaways. New York finished the entire game with nine. The Rangers’ first goal was the result of Damon Severson attempting to clear the puck, and instead it went the skate of Adam Fox. The third goal for the Rangers was the result of Ryan Graves turning the puck over in the neutral zone. Right after Kakko scored his team’s third goal, Blackwood left the game and did not return to the game.
Over the past three games, New Jersey was able to secure three points out of a possible six. Considering who their opponents were, the team has done a good job as of late. Currently, they are fourth in the Metropolitan Division with 17 points. The Devils are off today, but will be back on the ice tomorrow when they face the Ottawa Senators.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.