This is Maverick’s World and everyone in the NHL is living in it. It is a world in which every coach and every player now feels the need, the need for speed like they’re all in a race to become Top Gun.
Take a gander across the Hudson. Once upon a time the Devils were typecast as the trap-happy, entertainment-killing antichrists of the NHL while winning three Cups in nine years from 1995 through 2003.
Now, though, decades after being the poster team for the NHL’s Dead Puck Era, the worm has turned. For where every team once aspired to be “Heavy,” the 2022-23 byword is, “Fast.”
And no team epitomizes the dramatic shift in style that has been driven by a young generation of elite skill more than the Devils. Their game is all about speed, all about applying pressure, all about pushing it and pushing it and pushing it.
Indeed, they had pushed it to a 21-5-1 record entering Monday’s match at the Garden against a Rangers team that likes to think of itself as fast, but has evolved into more of a methodical outfit despite their complement of marquee high-flyers.
“It’s touch and go for us,” Chris Kreider told The Post. “We want to play fast, and when we’re on our game we are fast. I think back to my early years here and we didn’t have a lot of burners, but we played fast because we were in the right spots and knew where to put the puck. It wasn’t easy hockey, but it was simple hockey.
“Now, when we go through stretches in which we’re disjointed, we’re slow. We want to play at a faster pace. But that comes with poise.
“But tell me this? How did it look tonight.”
The Rangers took the Devils’ speed game and, after New Jersey had built a 3-1 lead midway through the second period on a dazzling goal by Jack Hughes, snuffed it and turned it back on them while registering perhaps the club’s most satisfying victory of the season.
“It’s a fine line between opening it up too much and being too conservative against anybody, but certainly against New Jersey,” Adam Fox told The Post after Filip Chytil’s score at 2:15 of overtime capped the Blueshirts’ three-goal rally for the 4-3 triumph that extended the club’s winning streak to four games.
“We want to slow them down, but at the same time match their speed, if that makes sense. Just saying you want to, ‘play fast,’ is arbitrary. We want to play the right way.”
Natural Stat Trick records rush attempts by inference off the official NHL game sheets. The numbers are likely not gospel. But just as it applies to all publicly available analytical calculations, they accurately represent trends.
According to the website, the Devils entered the Garden with seven of the NHL’s top 26 players in rush attempts, with Miles Wood tied with Erik Karlsson for the lead with 17 apiece. Defenseman Ryan Graves ranked third with 14.
And then, with nine or more rush attempts through New Jersey’s opening 27 games, were Yegor Sharangovich (12), Jack Hughes (11), Nico Hischier (9), Dougie Hamilton (9) and Jonas Siegenthaler (9).
Chris Kreider and Vincent Trocheck were tied for the Rangers’ lead. With four apiece.
The Devils’ total of 149 rush attempts is almost literally off the chart, a full 19.9 percent ahead of Eastern Conference runner-up Tampa Bay’s 122. Florida is third with 58.
This is kind of like the AL home run race, with the Devils standing in as Aaron Judge.
And that was the story of the first half of this match in which New Jersey twice held two-goal leads while off to the races. And 1:45 after Hughes scored the 3-1 goal after getting behind Alexis Lafreniere, No. 86 was in alone again before he was taken down by Braden Schneider. But when Igor Shesterkin was able to poke the puck away from Hughes on the ensuing penalty shot, the game inexorably turned.
Kreider had scored on a two-on-one by converting Vincent Trocheck’s left-wing feed for the goal that cut New Jersey’s edge to 2-1 late in the first period after failing to get his own two-on-one feed through to Julien Gauthier nine minutes earlier. The Rangers were able to get into open ice.
After the power play struck for the 3-2 goal at 13:38 of the second, seven seconds later, it was tied, K’Andre Miller setting up Kaapo Kakko with a gorgeous feed after joining — or was that, leading? — the rush off the center-ice draw. This was the Rangers on the attack. This was the Rangers generating rush attempts.
Of course, the Blueshirts must be disciplined with their puck management. But Monday’s final 30 minutes should be the template. It is fine to be methodical, but the Blueshirts often go beyond the point of reason. No one is paying Artemi Panarin or Mika Zibanejad to chip it into safe spaces.
Monday, the Rangers slowed the Devils down and sped it up themselves. Maybe New Jersey fell into a trap.
Credit: Source link