3 Takeaways From Devils’ Game 2 Loss vs. Rangers

For the second game in a row, the New Jersey Devils got their lunch fed to them by the New York Rangers. They got off to an early 1-0 lead thanks to a power-play goal from Erik Haula, but the Rangers scored five unanswered tallies to defeat the Devils 5-1 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead heading back to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4 on Saturday and Monday. Here are three takeaways and some quick hits ahead of a must-win road tilt. 

Ruff Got Thoroughly Out-coached

The Devils got off to a nervous start in Game 1, but they settled down and played a solid game over the final 40 minutes, especially at five-on-five. They did need to make adjustments to generate more offense and cause havoc around Igor Shesterkin’s net. Devils head coach Lindy Ruff made some tweaks to his lineup. Unfortunately, they were not the right ones. Far from it: 

It’s pretty easy to see from the changes that Ruff wanted more physicality in Game 2. He got that, but it hurt the rest of the team’s play, as it seems they got away from the rush game that made them such a threatening club during the regular season. The Devils couldn’t generate anything at five-on-five, finishing with fewer expected goals than in Game 1. 

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As for challenging Shesterkin, they did nothing to make life difficult for him. There was no net-front presence, no screens to take his eyes away, and nowhere near enough high-danger chances to make a goalie of his caliber break a sweat. When all was said and done, the Devils managed a measly 1.43 expected goals and controlled 47.53 percent of the xGs. 

Related: 4 Takeaways From Devils’ Game 1 Loss to Rangers

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And since Ruff wanted more physicality, it led to undisciplined penalties, which the Rangers took advantage of by killing the Devils on the power play. Miles Wood took another careless offensive zone penalty when the game was 1-1. The Rangers converted, and that was essentially that. You could even feel the game’s tone change after the Rangers scored after that Wood penalty. 

The Devils cannot play down to the Rangers and try to play their style. They will not win a tilt, let alone come back from a 2-0 series deficit, trying to play a physical game when it’s not something they did at all during the regular season. They have to get back to the rush game they played in Game 1 and the regular season and not worry about how the Rangers want to play. If they don’t, they will get swept. 

Ruff Must Scratch Wood for the Remainder of Series

For the second straight game, Wood put his team in a terrible spot by taking a careless offensive zone penalty that he could’ve easily avoided. Not only that, but Ruff moved Wood into the top nine, placing him on the third line with Erik Haula and Tomáš Tatar. That line got cooked at five-on-five, as they posted a 2.23 xG%. That is not a typo, either. They only controlled two percent of the expected goals. Wood’s individual xG% was 2.12 percent as well. 

Miles Wood New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Miles Wood (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Not only are the Devils getting caved in at five-on-five with Wood on the ice, but he’s not creating chances or scoring goals. He’s not playing on either special teams unit and is not providing physicality. The only thing he’s done is take two penalties that have led to two Rangers power-play goals. He’s been the team’s biggest net negative because of the penalties, and while Ruff may want the physicality, it’s time he pulled the plug on playing Wood. 

Since Wood should not see the ice for the rest of the series, Jesper Boqvist should be back in the lineup in a bottom-six role. He adds more speed, does not take careless penalties, is one of the team’s best forecheckers, and has more than solid defensive metrics. Where he goes in the bottom six doesn’t matter, but he should be in the lineup without question.

Something to Build On? 

Not much worked for the Devils yesterday evening, but Ruff did seem to find something with the trio of Timo Meier, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt in the third period. That unit finished with a shot attempt advantage of 8-0 and 100 xG% while creating six scoring chances and two high-danger chances. 

Optimizing the lineup is of the utmost importance in Game 3, something Ruff has not done up to this point of the series. At least with Meier, Hischier and Bratt as the top line, there could be something to build upon for tomorrow evening. The trio played well during the regular season, posting a 62.83 Corsi for percentage and a 64.96 xG%, so there’s reason to believe it will work. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • Vitek Vanecek gave up five goals for the second straight game while allowing 1.62 goals above expected. The Devils left him out to dry in Game 2, so he’s certainly not at fault for the loss. But I think Ruff has to consider switching to Akira Schmid for Game 3. The 22-year-old rookie finished the regular season with a .922 save percentage and sparked the team on more than a few occasions. At the very least, he has to be under consideration. 
  • In his post-game availability, Ruff said he scratched Jonas Siegenthaler for Brendan Smith for more physicality. Whatever the case may be, Siegenthaler needs to be in tomorrow night. He finished Game 1 with a 66.92 xG% and is easily one of the team’s six best defenders. With tomorrow being an absolute must-win, he has to play. 

The Devils faced adversity during the regular season and were one of the best road teams. They need to put on one of their best road efforts together for Saturday to give themselves a chance at getting back into the series. 

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