4 Takeaways From Devils’ 2-1 Win Over the Rangers

In perhaps the biggest matchup against their local rivals in a decade, the New Jersey Devils came to play in their final regular-season tilt against the New York Rangers. With the 2-1 regulation win, they moved to 3-0-1 against the Rangers for the 2022-23 season and expanded their lead to four points for second place over New York in the Metropolitan Division. Here are four takeaways and some quick hits from the victory. 

Devils Get Off to Fast Start

Slow starts have plagued the Devils this season, but they came hot out of the gate against the Rangers. They were skating circles around them from the opening faceoff, applying relentless pressure in the offensive zone. And whenever New York tried to counterattack, they couldn’t get anything going because the Devils prevented them from exiting the defensive zone cleanly.  

By the time the first period was over, the Devils had a clear advantage in every category they could’ve wanted at five-on-five: 

  • 25-12 shot attempts (67.57 Corsi for percentage (CF%))
  • 17-4 scoring chances
  • 7-1 high-danger chances
  • 69.98 expected goals share (xG%)
  • 2-0 goals (all strengths)

Though the Devils were the better team for 60 minutes, it’s good they got to Igor Shesterkin early. Despite being the losing goaltender, he was in a groove and made sure he didn’t give up anything else after the first period while facing quite a bit of quality. 

That’s why striking early against a netminder of his caliber is so crucial since he can lock it down if his team goes up 2-0 quickly. Instead, the Devils dictated the game and made the Rangers chase them rather than New York locking it down and letting Shesterkin seal the win. That could be the blueprint for a potential first-round playoff series between the two sides. 

Hamilton Was on His Game

When the Devils win games against fellow playoff contenders, it’s usually because Dougie Hamilton has a monster night. He picked up an assist on Erik Haula’s goal with a beautiful shot pass, looking for a redirect from Haula. But that wasn’t the only way Hamilton made an impact. A significant reason why the Devils controlled play was because of the game he had at five-on-five. 

Dougie Hamilton New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Hamilton on the ice, the Devils had a 27-9 shot attempt advantage (75 CF%) and 77.36 xG%. He feasted on the Rangers’ depth players, posting a 99.27 xG% against the Kid Line of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko. Granted, not all of his ice time came against the Kid Line, but head coach Lindy Ruff did an admirable job of getting him some favorable matchups against players he should have an advantage over. 

With the assist, Hamilton picked up his 50th of the season, tying Tom Kurvers for the second-most assists in a single season by a Devils defenseman. With seven games left, he needs one more point to surpass 70 on the season. Hamilton might not end up a Norris Trophy finalist, but he’s been invaluable to the team in 2022-23. 

Vanecek Is Back

The Devils didn’t have to make Vitek Vanecek work too much at five-on-five, but he still faced some quality, especially when the Rangers were on the power play and attacking at 6-on-5 in search of the tying goal in the game’s final minutes. He was sharp from the get-go, and his rebound control was on point, as it has been when he’s played his best this season.

Related: Devils’ Lindy Ruff Needs to Find Consistent Forward Lines

Latest News & Highlights

Vanecek made 24 saves on 25 shots while stopping 0.87 goals above expected. The win marked his 30th of the season, a career-high, and made him the only Devils goaltender other than Martin Brodeur to record a 30-win season. After slumping for most of the month, it seems he’s gotten back into a groove, as he has a .924 save percentage across his last five outings. That’s what the team wanted to see from him to close the regular season, as he will undoubtedly be their starter in the playoffs. 

Devils Offense Led to Great Defense

The Devils played a near-perfect defensive game, not allowing the Rangers to sustain anything offensively at five-on-five. One reason is that New Jersey was the team continuously applying pressure in the offensive zone and keeping their opponents hemmed in. They got a strong outing from their top nine, which Ruff kept constant for the entire night without any line shuffling. 

The first line of Timo Meier, Nico Hischier and Dawson Mercer controlled the quantity and quality share. They got backed up by the second line of Ondrej Palát, Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt, who had a 10-2 advantage in scoring chances over the Rangers when on the ice. Even the Devils’ third line of Tomás Tatar, Haula and Jesper Boqvist sustained plenty of offensive zone time; they did account for the game’s opening goal. 

Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There are advantages to shuffling lines in-game, especially on the road when looking for more favorable matchups. But as we saw last night, the Devils can succeed when sticking with a certain group for the entirety of a game. It’ll be interesting to see if Ruff continues that trend in search of more consistency in the final seven games of the regular season before the playoffs get underway. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • Meier is still finding his place since the Devils acquired him from the San Jose Sharks, but he had another fine outing. He was involved offensively, and his power-play goal proved to be the game-winner. Meier finished with seven shot attempts and four scoring chances at all strengths, and he was throwing his body around and providing physicality. Eventually, the points will come in bunches. 
  • Part of this is because he’s Hamilton’s defense partner, but Jonas Siegenthaler had a fantastic game too. The Rangers couldn’t create any offense against him, as they had just two scoring chances and one high-danger chance in his ice time. His 85.92 xG% led all Devils skaters at five-on-five, a further sign he’s back after some struggles during the middle of the season. 
  • Tatar doesn’t always end up on the score sheet, but he always seems to impact the game. I thought he was one of the Devils’ best forwards, as he created off the rush but was also a nuisance when on the forecheck. Whenever his line got something going, it seemed he was starting things in transition. He ended the game with a 71.26 xG%, second among Devils forwards to Boqvist. He will be a crucial depth player for the team in the playoffs. 
  • With the Detroit Red Wings’ last-second win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Devils moved within one point of the Hurricanes for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Canes have a game in hand, so the odds are still in their favor, but the Devils do still have a chance at securing first place. 

Next up for the Devils is a national broadcast against the Blackhawks in Chicago on ESPN 2 tomorrow night. They wrap up the week with a tilt in Winnipeg against the Jets on Sunday evening, their last back-to-back of the 2022-23 regular season. 

* * *

Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick