The New Jersey Devils played their second preseason game on Wednesday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The Devils left New York with a 4-3 loss in overtime but it was not all bad. The offense stepped up and scored three goals while the goaltending looked good despite allowing four goals. The real problem for the Devils was their defense. So let’s see what went right for the offense and what went wrong for the defense on Wednesday.
Devils Offense Was Impressive
The obvious bright spot for the Devils in their second preseason game was their offense. They netted three goals, two against Henrik Lundqvist, and looked good doing it. It is even more impressive considering they didn’t play their entire first line and Nico Hischier. The big difference-makers were Pavel Zacha, Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes. Zacha scored a goal, Stafford notched two assists and Hayes had a goal and an assist.
It was a good first impression for Zacha. Fans were hoping he would find more success this season after hearing about his new training regimen over the offseason. So far, so good. Zacha had a solid game and his goal displayed great hand-eye coordination and hockey awareness. The Devils will need their sixth overall pick in 2015 to become a force this season if they are to be successful.
Stafford looked great in his first game with the Devils and Hayes made up for his three penalty performance against the Washington Capitals on Monday. Right now, these appear to be two great additions to the roster. Both forwards add depth and some skill to the bottom-six while having the ability to jump up to the top-six if need be.
Healthy Competition on Defense
Now onto the bad, the defense. The Devils’ defense was lacking in their second game and it was not pretty to watch. Ben Lovejoy really struggled against the speed of the Rangers, especially Chris Kreider. Lovejoy was beaten badly on the second goal for the Blueshirts, missed intercepting a pass on a penalty kill which forced goaltender Cory Schneider to make a post-to-post save, and was on the ice for the overtime goal. Not a great night for the defender.
If Lovejoy continues to put up performances like that then his spot will be in jeopardy. Will Butcher, Mirco Mueller, Steve Santini, and Yaroslav Dyblenko are all fighting for spots and could knock anyone out of the lineup. Mueller and Butcher looked especially good for the Devils in their win over the Capitals and will try to build on those performances in the coming games.
Damon Severson was good, Andy Greene was average and the rest of the defense wasn’t too impressive. So there are plenty of open spots on the blue line. It’ll be interesting to see who can win them. Butcher and Mueller have the lead for the moment but that could always change.
Goaltending Was Good
I know the Devils allowed four goals but I still think their goaltending was solid. Schneider made several incredible saves in his 30 minutes of ice time. The first goal against him was a semi-breakaway that occurred when the Devils’ penalty kill blew defensive coverage. The second goal was another semi-breakaway after the defense allowed Kreider to blow right by them. The third was an unlucky double deflection that Schneider had no shot at. Not much you can blame the Devils’ starting goalie for on Wednesday.
Then, goaltending prospect Mackenzie Blackwood came in and looked great. He made several big saves in overtime before a Rangers’ power-play ended the night when a cross-ice pass led to a one-timer. The pass should have been broken up but it somehow went through two penalty killers. Overall, it was an impressive night for the Devils’ goaltending, who will get more support when the starting six defensemen play in front of them on opening night.
Final Thoughts on Game Two
There was a mix of good and bad in the Devils second preseason game. The offense looked sharp and could be a major plus for the Devils this season. The defense struggled and will need to be improved on, whether by outside help or internal improvement of play. Luckily, there is a good amount of depth on the blue line for New Jersey. That means anyone can be replaced at any time for another capable defenseman. Schneider will need some help from his team but will have a good year if head coach John Hynes can figure out the defense. It was a tough loss on Wednesday but there was a lot to like from this game.