5 Takeaways From Devils’ 4-3 OT Loss to Rangers

In what was an eventful contest at Madison Square Garden, the New Jersey Devils fell in overtime to the New York Rangers by a score of 4-3. The Devils got out to a fast start and led 2-0 early in the first period, but they couldn’t hold on to two separate two-goal leads to drop their second game in a row. Still, they managed to grab a point and moved to 21-5-2 on the season. Here are five takeaways from yesterday’s game. 

Wild Momentum Swings Determined Devils’ Fate

Even though the Devils got off to a fast start, thanks to two quick goals from Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer, some wild momentum swings tilted the ice in each team’s favor at different points throughout the game. 

Substack Subscribe to the THW Daily and never miss the best of The Hockey Writers Banner

The first swing came toward the end of the first period when the Rangers scored to make it a 2-1 game with less than two minutes remaining in the opening frame. Yet, the Devils scored on a tidy goal from Jack Hughes in the second period to get their lead back to two goals. They almost secured a 4-1 advantage on a Hughes penalty shot, but Igor Shesterkin denied him with the stick. 

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The next flip came moments after Hughes’ failed penalty shot. You could argue that was the momentum swing, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But just seconds after the penalty shot, Jonas Siegenthaler received a two-minute minor on a rather soft interference call. That’s not to say that cost the Devils the game; it didn’t, but that’s when the game flipped. 

The Rangers capitalized on the penalty and made it a 3-2 game. Just seven seconds afterward, Kaapo Kakko tied it up after the Devils fell asleep at the wheel on the ensuing faceoff. To their credit, the Devils were the better team in the third period, as they controlled most of the play and managed to come away with a point. It was a weird game where the Rangers got some timely scoring off one or two Devils miscues at crucial moments. It happens, and they still took three of four points at MSG this season. On to the next one tonight against the Dallas Stars at Prudential Center. 

Devils Stepped Up at 5-on-5

Even though the Devils didn’t come away with the second point, there was a substantial improvement in their five-on-five play compared to their 6-4 loss to the New York Islanders on Friday evening. They won the shot attempt battle 49-33, had a 33-9 advantage(!) in scoring chances, and a 13-3 edge in high-danger chances. In all, they controlled 74.46 percent of the expected goals. And a look at the heat map of yesterday’s game shows how dominant they were at five-on-five: 

New Jersey Devils New York Rangers
Heat map of Devils vs. Rangers, 12/12/2022 (via Natural Stat Trick)

As alluded to above, the Rangers capitalized on the few chances they created, and it was enough to win the game. But if the Devils play the way they did last night, they should be able to manage a very difficult 2-3 week part of their schedule with some favorable results. They finished with their second-highest xG% of the season last night. All they have to do from that is clean up some of the defensive miscues that led to the goals against. 

Hughes Is an Unstoppable Force

Even in a loss, it isn’t difficult to be wowed by Hughes. His goal to make it a 3-1 game was again of the highlight-reel variety, and he was an absolute monster when it came to creating chances. At all strengths, he finished with seven shots on goal, nine shot attempts, five scoring chances, and five high-danger chances. 

When Hughes was on the ice at five-on-five, the Devils out-chanced the Rangers 13-4 and controlled over 80 percent of the expected goals. With 34 points in 28 games, he’s on pace for 99-100 points, which would make him the first 100-point scorer in franchise history. If Hughes reaches that mark, I don’t think anyone would call it a fluke. He has been a star and seems to always have a significant positive impact in every game. 

Mercer Is No Passenger

Mercer, who’s been Hughes’ linemate for a good stretch here, also had a fantastic game. He wasn’t on Hughes’ level, but he was arguably the Devils’ second-best player. He finished the night with two points (a goal and an assist) but could’ve easily had more than one goal. His “alley-oop” pass on Hughes’ goal wasn’t all that different than what he did two weeks ago at MSG: 

At all strengths, Mercer finished with three shots on goal, eight shot attempts, six scoring chances, and two high-danger chances. His game score of 3.54 led all skaters, Rangers included. With the two-point night, he’s on pace to finish with 53 points. And with his recent play, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that pace continues to increase. 

Ruff Needs to Shake Up Fourth Line

The one negative that certainly caught most fans’ eyes last night was the lack of playing time for the fourth line of Yegor Sharangovich, Jesper Boqvist and Alexander Holtz. Sharangovich led that trio in five-on-five ice time at 5:43, meaning head coach Lindy Ruff rolled three lines for an overwhelming majority of the game. 

There are pros to rolling three lines, as it leads to more minutes for the team’s top skaters (Hughes, Hischier, etc.). But on the second half of a back-to-back tonight, Ruff could consider making a lineup change to return to rolling four lines. The Devils called up Andreas Johnsson from the Utica Comets (AHL) a little over a week ago, and giving him a look against the Stars in a fourth-line role wouldn’t be the worst option. 

Related: Devils Prospect Report: 2023 World Junior Championship & More

Johnsson had been playing well for the Comets, totaling 13 points in 12 games. He’s been with the organization for two-plus seasons and will know what they want from him in such a role. Considering Holtz’s up-and-down performances this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him come out for Johnsson. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • Vitek Vanecek gave up two goals above expected and finished with an .826 save percentage. After re-watching the highlights, you could make a decent argument he should’ve stopped the game-winner. But that’s probably it? That will qualify as a real bad start based on SV% (per Rob Vollman, via Hockey-Reference), but it wasn’t as bad as the numbers indicate. Still, he has an .863 SV% across his last four outings. It’s most likely the typical downswing any goalie goes through during a season, but it’s something to monitor moving forward. 
  • The Tomáš Tatar, Hischier, and Jesper Bratt line had quite the game. The Devils out-chanced the Rangers 11-0 and controlled 94.68 percent of the expected goals when they were on the ice. They’ll likely see plenty of minutes against the Jason Robertson line tonight, so a repeat performance would do wonders. 

Like the Devils, the Stars will also be on the second half of a back-to-back; they’re coming off a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Barring something unforeseen, expect Akira Schmid to get the start in net for the Devils. The puck drops at 7 PM, with coverage beginning at 6:30 on MSG Network.

* * *

Advanced stats from Natural Stat TrickHockey Stat Cards