4 Takeaways From Devils’ Game 4 Win vs. Rangers

And just like that, we are where this series started. In essentially a must-win for the New Jersey Devils, they played one of their most complete games of the 2022-23 season to defeat the New York Rangers 3-1 in Game 4. The win knots up the series and turns it into a best-of-three as the Devils head home for Game 5 at the Prudential Center on Thursday evening. Here are four takeaways and some quick hits as the series starts anew. 

Siegenthaler Leads the Way

Every playoffs, there’s always a player who makes an impact that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to in the way he does. It can be someone not known for his defense saving a goal or a fourth-liner scoring an unexpected game-winner. In this case, it was Devils’ defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler showing up in a big way on the scoresheet. 

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Siegenthaler did show some more scoring upside this season, totaling four goals and 21 points in 80 games. No one will mistake him for Erik Karlsson with those totals, but he did show some offensive flash yesterday. After Devils goaltender Akira Schmid had a shot squeak through him about two and a half minutes into the game, Siegenthaler cleared the puck from the blue paint perfectly to center ice for Jack Hughes, who scored on a breakaway after faking out Igor Shesterkin. 

Siegenthaler didn’t do it intentionally; it was Hughes’ recognition to know where the puck was going which made the play, as Devils analyst Bryce Salvador pointed out during the first intermission. Still, a primary assist is a primary assist, but Siegenthaler wasn’t done. After the Rangers scored early in the third period to tie the game at 1-1, he’d tally the eventual game-winner with a perfect wrist shot, thanks to an excellent royal road pass from Nico Hischier:

Not only was Siegenthaler an offensive threat, but he was also stout defensively. For the most part, the Rangers couldn’t generate off the rush against him. He played a physical game and won one-on-one battles along the boards, denying the Rangers any chance of creating offense off the forecheck and cycle. Unsung hero might not be the correct term to describe his effort in Game 4, but the Devils don’t even up the series without his performance. 

Devils Defense Locked It Down 

Siegenthaler wasn’t the only skater who played well defensively. Far from it. The Devils played a solid defensive game in Game 3, but yesterday was arguably one of their best defensive performances of the 2022-23 season, especially at five-on-five. They held the Rangers to just 1.19 expected goals while allowing only 16 scoring chances and seven high-danger chances at five-on-five. 

On the back end, John Marino was fantastic. As is usually the case with him, he was a rush defense master, denying the Rangers any chance to gain the offensive zone cleanly. He spent nearly nine minutes against Mika Zibanejad and held him to a 28.67 expected goals percentage (xG%) and no shots on goal when he was on the ice. It was a significant factor in why the Rangers couldn’t generate any offense at five-on-five. 

John Marino New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman John Marino (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On a less noticeable level, Kevin Bahl continues to be a revelation playing on the third pair alongside Damon Severson. Bahl led Devils’ defensemen with an 82.68 xG%, with the Devils having a 9-0 advantage in scoring chances and a 4-0 edge in high-danger chances with him on the ice. Credit also goes to Severson, who’s had a fantastic series through four games. 

Devils forwards played their part defensively, too. Hischier looked like someone bound for a Selke nomination when finalists for NHL awards get revealed. The Rangers couldn’t get any offense going when he was on the ice for the second consecutive game. Here are his expected goals percentages against Adam Fox, Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane, in that order: 

  • 81.9 percent
  • 86.4 percent
  • 89.24 percent
  • 100 percent

Those are arguably the Rangers’ four best players, but Hischier denied them from generating anything threatening when he was on the ice. And when it mattered most, the Devils defense clamped down, only allowing two shots on goal after Vincent Trocheck scored 1:42 into the third period. They will need that type of defensive effort once again in Game 5.  

Devils Improve Discipline, Penalty Kill Still Steps Up

Taking penalties had been a problem for the Devils through the first three games of the series, but they seemed to buckle down in that regard in Game 4. They took two minor penalties in the first period, but they only had one over the final 40 minutes and, most importantly, none in the third period when the game was on the line. 

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But even though the Devils still committed some infractions, their penalty kill came up clutch once again. They were 5/5 in Game 3 and killed off all three Rangers’ power plays yesterday. They’ve also made some noticeable adjustments since the first two games of this series when the Rangers’ power play did whatever it wanted

The Devils’ penalty killers have been more aggressive, especially toward Fox when he’s quarterbacking the man advantage. It’s been more difficult for the Rangers to get shots through, which has prevented Chris Kreider from getting redirect and rebound opportunities in front of the net. The Devils need to keep that up to win at home on Thursday night. 

Schmid Has Changed the Series

Schmid had quite the playoff debut in Game 3, making 35 saves on 36 shots while stopping 2.80 goals above expected. He didn’t have to work as hard yesterday because the Devils played such a solid defensive game, but he was still excellent. He made 22 saves on 23 shots and stopped 0.75 goals above expected, cementing his place as the starter for the rest of this series. 

Akira Schmid New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils goaltender Akira Schmid (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

Schmid was particularly clutch on a couple of Rangers power plays late in the first period, where they generated most of their looks on the man advantage for the game. He was calm and poised, as he was in Game 3, and the team played with confidence in front of him again. That could make a difference in Game 5, with the Devils looking to be the first team to win on home ice in this series. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • Ondrej Palát hasn’t had the first season he hoped to have in New Jersey, but I thought he played his best game of the series in Game 4. Of course, he added the empty-net tally to seal it. But he also saved a goal against by clearing it off the goal line late in the second period when Schmid thought he had the puck secured but it trickled behind him. It feels like there’s a bigger moment coming for him than an empty-net goal, and perhaps Game 5 is where that’s the case. 
  • Head coach Lindy Ruff switched up his lines in the third period, placing Tomáš Tatar alongside Hischier and Jesper Bratt while moving Timo Meier down with Dawson Mercer and Michael McLeod. It’ll be interesting to see if he sticks with that to start Game 5 since Tatar, Hischier and Bratt have played so well together this season. 
  • Curtis Lazar only logged 4:58 of ice time yesterday, all at five-on-five, but he still had a positive impact. He finished with one shot on goal, two hits, and an 89.24 xG%. He did take a minor penalty, but it was a questionable call. Overall, that’s what he needs to do when he’s in the lineup. Don’t be a liability, and make sure the team isn’t getting caved in when he’s on the ice at five-on-five while providing some physicality. He did that and filled his role well in his limited ice time. 

Neither team has won a home game to this point, but can the Devils buck the trend in Game 5? If their previous two performances are any indication, they’re trending in the right direction. But it figures to be another competitive tilt between these two local rivals. 

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