The series between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers was expected to be a tight, yet fun, series. Two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference are going head to head in a playoff series that could be a long one. The Rangers took game 1 by a score of 5-1 in a surprisingly disappointing effort from the Devils. Devils forward Jack Hughes scored the only Devils goal on a penalty shot. Game 2 is a big one for New Jersey as games 3 and 4 are in New York.
New York Rangers dominate New Jersey Devils in game one win
One cannot look at one thing in the loss and say this is why the New Jersey Devils lost. The top-six New Jersey forwards did not perform well and it showed. Could a lack of playoff experience have played a factor? It is quite possible but a better effort is needed or this could be a quick playoff series for the Devils.
On the other hand, several key players played huge roles in the New York Rangers win. Defenseman Adam Fox had four assists, while forward Chris Kreider had two power play goals, including the game-winner, to set the tone. Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced, although many of those chances were of low quality. Here are three takeaways from the game 1 Rangers win.
Special teams need to be fixed
The New Jersey Devils on the surface did not play well as a team but it was the special team that did them in. The Devils power play was 0-4 and the team registered only one shot on goal, that shot coming from Hughes. The Devils power play lacked shot selection and the passing was poor.The passing was not crisp and they never got a chance to set up in the offensive zone due to the ferocious defense from the Rangers. The Rangers gave the Devils little room to operate and cleared the puck at every opportunity. Shesterkin faced little pressure and made only routine stops.
The New Jersey Devils penalty kill needs some work as well. The penalty kill killed off only one of the three opportunities the Rangers had with the man advantage, as Kreider single handedly made them pay. The Rangers had time to set up, get their shot, and keep control of the puck to control the pace while on the power play. The passing for the Rangers was smooth, keeping the puck moving while with the extra man. The keys for the Devils is to stay out of the box and be more disciplined, be stronger on the puck and more physical on the penalty kill, and get more creative on the power play.
Key players on the Devils need to step up
The core group of New Jersey had a bad game in game 1 and it was obvious. Aside from Hughes penalty shot goal, the forward group was flat. Timo Meier, Nico Hischier, Hughes, Tomas Tatar, and Dawson Mercer combined for 16 shots in the game while the rest of the team had 12 shots together. These resulted in only one goal for the team, and the rest of the opportunities were not from high scoring areas. This particular group was on the ice for most of the rangers goals. Meier was a -1, Hughes was a -1, Hischier was a -3, and Mercer a -2. If the Devils have any shot of winning game 2 and the series this group has to be better all around. The Devils need to control game 2 and let the Rangers chase them, not the other way around.
Poor penalty kill face-offs haunts Devils
Among the problems in game 1 was the face-off percentage on their penalty kill. The Devils finished with a 43% winning percentage while the Rangers had the man advantage. This resulted in the Rangers controlling the man advantage and going 2-3 on the power play. Face offs are big in the playoffs and give the power play a huge advantage if they can win the draw in their mission to score. If a face off is lost, then the losing team on the draw has given the opposition the advantage. The New Jersey Devils have to get better shorthanded and it starts with the face offs. Winning face offs can waste time on the kill and force the opposition to skate the length of the ice and set up time after time. The penalty kill needs to get quicker, more aggressive, and put more concentration on the task at hand.
Game 2 is Thursday, April 20 in New Jersey at the Prudential Center.