Newark, N.J. — The New Jersey Devils hosted the New York Rangers in their final meeting of the preseason on Wednesday.
The Devils went to the power play early in the first period. Jesper Bratt continued his hot preseason, scoring his fifth goal in four games. 30 seconds later Luke Hughes scored, giving the Devils a 2-0 lead. Will Cuylle got the Rangers on the board in the second period, scoring a goal on a shot from the point that went wide and found its way to the top of Vitek Vanecek’s crease. Dawson Mercer regained the Devils’ two-goal lead, however, finishing a rush started by Timo Meier. Adam Fox brought the Rangers back within one, scoring on a New York power play. However, on a power play of their own, New Jersey regained their two-goal lead on the stick of Jack Hughes. Nico Hischier hit the empty net to seal the deal on the Devils’ 5-2 victory. Vanecek ended the night by making 19 saves on 21 shots.
Devils Speed Too Much Physical Rangers
It’s almost like the Rangers didn’t forget who eliminated them in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Blueshirts came out in the first period of play playing a physical brand of hockey. New York out-hit the Devils 16-6 in the opening frame. Regardless, the Devils’ speed overcame the physical onslaught by the Rangers and turned it into two quick goals.
Despite New York laying out fewer hits, it was the Rangers who suffered the most, and not just on the scoresheet. Rangers defenseman, Ryan Lindgren, attempted to step up to Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl. However, Bahl’s reverse hit on Lindgren sent the Blueshirts defenseman back to the New York bench hunched over in pain. Due to New Jersey’s ability to overcome the physical battle, Lindy Ruff was pleased with how his team handled the physicality.
“When you have the puck a lot, you can get hit a lot,” Ruff explained. “We had the puck a lot and they were physical. When we had the opportunity we had some good hits (as well). I think we know our game. The players they have, they know their game. What I liked is we battled through it. We had our share of good eliminations. I thought Kevin Bahl had a big hit right in the first period. In a game like that, you’re probably gonna get out-hit. They got on the body and we can expect that.”
The Devils’ power play is certainly firing on all cylinders. New Jersey scored on three out of five chances, and it’s not hard to imagine why.
New Jersey has so much firepower on their roster that Ruff has been able to deploy legitimate threats on both units. On one unit, New Jersey iced Mercer, Meier, Nico Hischier, Alexander Holtz, and Dougie Hamilton. The other consists of Bratt, J. Hughes, Tyler Toffoli, Ondrej Palat, and L. Hughes. There’s no determining which is the No.1 unit.
Each unit got on the board Wednesday night, starting with Bratt’s laser first-period goal to open the scoring in the first period. As can be seen, it was a goal that started with Palat winning a puck battle and pushing the rubber in Hughes’ direction. It’s an area of the special teams Ruff explained he certainly wants the Devils to be better at.
“I think we made some good plays,” Ruff explained after the Devils victory. “I think our puck recovery, which is really important if you take a look at the first goal, there was a draw on our puck recovery and we ended up scoring a goal. It was excellent on that play. There’s a whole bunch of little areas that we are trying to improve and right now we’re getting some results.”
Mercer got Hischier’s power play unit on the board in the second period, cleaning up a rebound created by Meier that also took Jonathan Quick out of the play. However, it was the third power-play goal where you really saw the brilliance of New Jersey’s power play on display.
J. Hughes displayed great patience handling the puck, waiting until the Blueshirts’ defense collapsed well below the dots. After feeding Toffoli below the goalline, the veteran forward quickly returned the puck to J. Hughes who picked a corner over Quick’s glove side for another power-play goal, giving the Devils a 4-2 lead.
The Devils power play ranked 13th overall across the NHL last season, converting on 21.9% of chances. It’s easy to see a situation where New Jersey climbs the power play ladder to reach new heights in the upcoming season.
Strong Night for Vitek Vanecek
New Jersey dressed what’s expected to be the opening night lineup. On the other side of the ice, so did the Rangers with the exception of Alexis Lafreniere.
It was an easy first period for Vanecek who only saw three shots in the entire opening 20 minutes. New York scored twice on eight shots in the second period, however, Vanecek closed the door in the third period despite the Devils getting out-shot 10-4.
“Not a busy night (for Vanecek) in the first 40 (minutes),” Ruff said. “He had to make some big saves in that third period. I think the part of the game where he really helped us was when we were breaking out, (the Rangers) were dumping pucks in (our zone). (Vanecek) was making the right play getting (the puck) to the (defense).”
Vanecek evidently looks like a goaltender who has calmed his demeanor. It’s a positive sign moving forward, especially after how last season ended. He’s played two full 60-minute games now in the preseason overall, something he believes is particularly important for him to go into the regular season prepared.
“Actually, I felt pretty good in the two full exhibition games,” Vanecek explained. “I feel really good, actually. I hope to keep it up and take it with me into the regular season. You want to feel good before the season, so it’s always (important to get that preparation).