The New Jersey Devils are in a big hole. The Devils trail in the series to the New York Rangers 2-0 after two straight losses at home. The Devils do not look like the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and are playing like a wild card team at best.
New Jersey forwards are not producing offensively, the defense looks lost, and goaltender Vitek Vanecek is not stopping the pucks he did in the regular season. The Devils need to bounce back from game two and take this next game, which is Saturday, April 22 in New York, like game seven.
If not, they could be playing golf sooner than later.
What changes must the Devils make against the Rangers?
The New Jersey Devils were looking for answers after a game one loss and now are looking for more answers after the loss in game two. What does Devils head coach Lindy Ruff do?
The forward lines were changed, and the team still looked horrible. Does Ruff change the defense now? The defense has looked average at best, soft in many ways, and is unwilling to play physical hockey. The Devils defense has let the New York Rangers forwards skate freely in their defensive zone.
Possible changes could be to add defensemen Brendan Smith and Luke Hughes to the blue line for game three. Hughes needs the playoff experience, and this move would be ideal to get his feet wet. Smith brings experience and a physical style to the team that is needed in playoff hockey.
Another option would be to start goaltender Akira Schmid and bench Vanecek, who has struggled mightily. Like Hughes, Schmid would get his first taste of playoff action. New blood in the lineup on the back end may help this become a series again.
Another thing the Devils need to do before it is too late is to stop Rangers forward Chris Kreider. Kreider has torched the Devils in the series, and the Devils have not even come close to stopping him.
Kreider has four goals, including two game-winning goals, in the two games played. He is a +1, has a shooting percentage of 50%, and has one blocked shot. Kreider is a crucial part of the New York Rangers power play that is operating at a 40% success rate.
If the New Jersey Devils are going to get back into the series, they have to disrupt Kreider’s time and space. Bringing in Smith could allow the New Jersey Devils defense to shadow Kreider, getting physical against the hottest player in the 2023 NHL playoffs.
If the Devils allow Rangers forward Kreider to continue to abuse their defense, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Kreider has 21 goals and 17 assists for 38 points in 46 career games against the New Jersey Devils while posting a +10.
The Devils have to get back to playing the style that made them a second seed and not worry about changing on the fly.
While the New Jersey Devils have plenty to fix, the New York Rangers have little to change. One question is will the Rangers defense, which has been superb, be able to continue to play well?
They have been playing well in all three zones, on special teams, and on a regular shift. The penalty kill has an unreal penalty kill percentage of 87.5%. The team GAA is 1.00. The Rangers as a team are allowing 25.5 shots per game, and they are taking away time, space, and speed from the younger Devils forwards.
The time the Devils have on the power play has gone to waste because the passing lanes are being blocked off, they turn the puck over, the shot selection is not there, and the goaltender can see every shot. The Rangers could go up 3-0 with a win on Saturday.
The New Jersey Devils have to clean up every area of their game. The offense is not there or creating chances, the defense needs to get more physical because they have been slow and soft, and the goaltending could not stop a beach ball.
Vanecek has a GAA of 4.52 in two games while the team is only allowing 26 shots per game. The Devils need to take one of two at Madison Square Garden or this series will be over.