Newark — Saturday night was full of anticipation in Newark. Jack Hughes, eventually good to go, was unconfirmed to play until the very last second for the New Jersey Devils. On the other side of the river, Igor Shesterkin returned to the New York Rangers for the first time since November 3rd.
Neither team was completely healthy, but those two key additions back to their respective lineups made the first matchup of the Hudson River Rivalry that much spicier.
Let’s dive into the Devils’…
Devils Quick Wrap
The Devils and Rangers exchanged a pair of power-play goals in the first period on the sticks of Artemi Panarin and Ondrej Palat. Former Devil Jimmy Vesey and Jack Hughes exchanged even-strength tallies to send the game tied into the second frame. It was a scoreless middle frame, however, it didn’t lack physicality. After Jacob Trouba delivered a big hit on Tomas Nosek in the first, he got on Michael McLeod a bit in the second. More on that later.
The Devils started the third period quick as Erik Haula gave New Jersey their first lead scoring his sixth goal of the season. However, Panarin and Vesey scored again in the third period to give the Rangers the lead in the third period. Blake Wheeler hit the empty net goal to ensure the Rangers victory. Vitek Vanecek took the loss making 30 saves. Igor Shesterkin secured the victory stopping 30 pucks.
Jack is Back
Hughes officially returned to the lineup with a new pair of wingers in Erik Haula and Curtis Lazar.
It looks like part of that strategy is about Jack’s shoulder. Skating with Haula, the Finnish forward was on faceoff duty despite Hughes playing the center position.
However, it doesn’t appear New Jersey is too concerned with Jack’s health as he was first to double shift with the Devils only playing 11 forwards. He also led the Devils in time on ice after the opening 20 minutes at 08:05.
And what do you know? After the Rangers took a 1-0 lead as a result of a tripping call on Alexander Holtz, Jack Hughes scored the first goal of the game to tie things up at one.
Oh you didn’t hear?
Jack. Is. Back. pic.twitter.com/0BARTimcJr
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) November 19, 2023
It was a typical Jack game. He created a plethora of offense with his playmaking and East-West style of play. When the Devils franchise forward was on the ice, they were playing offense more than they were playing defense. New Jersey’s game at 5-on-5 began to look a lot better on Thursday against Pittsburgh. However, you can’t replace what Jack brings, and the Devils looked that much more dangerous with him on the ice at even strength.
Hughes added an assist on Haula’s goal later in the contest. He finished the game with the most time on ice among forwards.
Jack really is back. Let’s go, baby!
Monkey off the Back
As one of the higher-paid players on New Jersey, the Devils certainly want more production from Palat than what they’ve received so far.
His first season with the Devils was derailed by an injury that kept him out 10 weeks. He did show up in the playoffs last spring scoring seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games. However, he didn’t end the regular season all that well and hasn’t started this regular season any better.
16 games into the regular season, Palat finally potted his first goal. It was a timely goal, too, as the Devils were trailing 2-1 in the first period. Palat’s goal sent the Devils and Rangers to the first intermission tied.
The last time Palat scored, it was March 7th, 2023. That’s 33 games between his last two regular season goals.
The shoe fits for Palat. He’s better known for his play in the playoffs rather than the regular season. However, making $6 million a year, Palat will need to contribute more than once every 33 games.
Physicality, Advantage Rangers
The Devils and the Rangers were pretty even in most categories. That even includes hits which, believe it or not, the Devils led in the category.
However, if there was a statistic that recorded “meaningful hits,” the Rangers likely would have taken the category.
The Devils lost Tomas Nosek in the first period following a booming hit by Trouba. Say what you will about if those hits do or don’t belong in the game anymore, but according to the rulebook, it was textbook.
Jacob Trouba with a huge hit on Tomas Nosek, who went right to the Devils locker room pic.twitter.com/gjqGkq63pM
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) November 19, 2023
Moments later, Trouba brought the physicality again, this time against Michael McLeod delivering two booming hits on the centerman.
Vincent Trocheck joined Trouba in delivering some big hits as well. One, a cross-check on Jack that sent Trocheck to the penalty box. But, the other, a check along the boards that had Holtz a little frazzled, although he stayed in the game.
You can’t say Lazar didn’t try to even the odds, but he can’t do it all by himself out there.
“They played physical and we didn’t match that,” Hughes explained. “It’s something we’re gonna have to be, not more emotionally involved because we were, but we just gotta be physical in our own way.”
Now look, the Devils beat this physical Rangers team last spring in a best-of-seven series. They’ve overcome those odds once, they can certainly do it again as they did tonight. However, it wouldn’t hurt New Jersey to add someone who can deliver the same type of punishment some of the Rangers bruisers do. Say, someone out of Calgary who has already dropped the mitts with Trouba a pair of times.