New Jersey Devils Return With a Big Win Against New York Rangers

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 28: Janne Kuokkanen #59 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center on January 28, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY - JANUARY 28: Janne Kuokkanen #59 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Prudential Center on January 28, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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After a long 16-day hiatus that felt like a month, the New Jersey Devils were back in action against their biggest rival the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. After such a long wait, one would expect the Devils to have some rust early on and tire late but short of a mediocre second period, they looked like they had not missed a beat. With the least amount of games played in the league and a game every other day, the Devils will need to show a lot of depth to last what was already going to be a hard grind.

The Good

Janne Kuokkanen, Pavel Zacha and Nick Merkley all made a solid statement as they try to define their roles on this team. Zacha put up his third goal and is on a good pace offensively which is something that needs to be seen from the former 6th-overall pick. Kuokkanen had a huge game on the wing and netted 3 assists for the best game of his young career while Merkley had a goal and assist. They were pushing the other team with a lot more certainty than normal and it is something to watch if they can keep it up to stay in the lineup when everyone is healthy.

Will Butcher returned for the first time in close to a year and scored a lucky goal. It was a big one to put the Devils back in the lead in the second period. He finished a +2 on the night and was never on the ice for a goal against, which will make it hard for the coaches to pull him out. If he can manage another strong game or two while Dmitry Kulikov or Ryan Murray is out, he may be able to pass Tennyson on the depth chart and slide into a more consistent bottom-pairing role.

Mackenzie Blackwood is back and looked exactly the same as he did before he got sick. He has won 3 of his four starts this season while posting a .948 save percentage. When he is in the net, the Devils should feel like they have the advantage there every game this season. With Wedgewood as a number 2, they just might get a full season of above average goaltending.

Michael McLeod was physical with his linemates, and while they went -1, they were solid and had a lot of offensive time. His big hit on Mika Zibanejad early and fighting Chris Krieder really set the tone for the game, showing fans that he and the team came ready to play.

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The Bad

While nothing was terrible for the Devils, the team had a bad second period which only looked good on paper. They were lucky to come out of it at a 2-2 tie, but winning two periods of three is usually enough and after the hot start it was to no one’s shock that the Rangers came out hard in the second.

Connor Carrick and Matt Tennyson both ended up a minus on the night and both are not every day NHL defenders but in this crazy season will be getting games in. As a pair they will need to be sheltered as long as Kulikov and Murray are gone and one should not expect or want to see them on the scoresheet in anyway, which would be considered a success.

Looking Ahead

Up next the Devils play the 10-2-2 Bruins who as predicted are leading this season’s East Division. This will be a huge test as they are a healthy team with superstar David Pastrnak back. The Devils will need to play physically and not let themselves get pushed around by a traditionally tough team while shutting down the big line. When it comes to depth, the Devils have it this year so if everyone is working hard the underdogs can come out on top of this match up.