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Game 8 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers - 10/22/2009

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcasting Info: MSG+2 if you want the Devils' feed; MSG if you want the Rangers' feed, 660 AM WFAN if you're using a radio.

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (4-3-0) at the New York Rangers (7-2-0)

Last Time These Two Met: The Devils couldn't get equalize after a second period goal by Matt Gilroy and so lost at the Rock, 3-2 to Our Hated Rivals.

Last Devils Game: Martin Brodeur earned his 102nd career shutout as the Devils iced the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0, the team's first home win this season.

Last Rangers Game: Maybe Steven Valiquette was a bad choice to start; but either way, San Jose scored as many times as the previous Rangers' winning streak to defeat the Blueshirts 7-3.  Jim Schmiedeberg recapped the game at Blueshirt Banter here.

The Goal: In a word: Revenge.  The Devils have yet to lose on the road this season and there really isn't anything like getting a win over your hated rival in the regular season.  The Devils couldn't rise to the occasion earlier this month after Brodeur gave up a soft one to Gilroy in the second period in the last game.  Since then, much has changed with the Devils.  They won some games, all of them close ones.  They got some confidence.  Martin Brodeur is pretty much "back," as the team looks to improve with every game.  The Rangers just got blown up real good by San Jose at MSG on Monday, so the time is right to pour on the misery in New York.

Read on for a guess at the Devils' gameplan as well as some questions answered about the Rangers by Joe Fortunato at Blueshirt Banter.

Let's start with this quote from Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire about tonight's opponent, as reported on by Tom Gulitti yesterday:

"I think we played a decent game the first time," he said. "We didnt give them a lot of chances. We’ve got to check their top line. There’s no doubt they have a good power play. They’re good 5-on-5. They’ve got a well-balanced team."

That sounds fairly boilerplate yet it's quite accurate.  It fits in well as the Rangers have been nothing but hot before their 7-3 loss to San Jose.  Their power play is tied with San Jose for 6th highest in the league at 26.8%. In terms of for/against ratio in even strength play, the Rangers rank 8th with a ratio of 1.33.   While their point streaks snapped, Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal (wasn't he Vaclav?) remain top scorers in the league with 12 and 11 points respectively.  Rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto has been impressive with 4 goals and 5 assists while only averaging 15:25 per game - the lowest average ice time among the NHL's current top 30 scorers.  Oh, and Henrik Lundqvist, I guess, has been OK.

2009 - Henrik Lundqvist 8 438 6 1 17 2.33 232 215 .927 0

So despite the 7-3 loss to San Jose, the Rangers are still formidable.  Joe Fortunato at Blueshirt Banter wonders how the team will respond.  Martin Brodeur, I think, has the right perspective for this situation, as reported by Gulitti yesterday:

"When you win, you feel good about yourself and when you just lost, you want to come back with a big effort," Brodeur said. "So it goes two ways. We know they’re going to be charged to play a really good game and try to forget their last game. And for us, we’ll try to attack them and get them into a vulnerable position that maybe they will think about the game before—hopefully. Who knows? Every game is different. For us, we came off a big win and once again we had four days off in between. It’s hard to get rolling when every time we start doing well we get days off. So, now we’ve just got to continue. We’ve got two big opponents on the weekend—the Rangers and Pittsburgh (on Saturday). Big matchup."

Again, it may not be uncommon words; but there's little to find fault in them as no one is now how the team will immediately react until the game is actually played. Therefore, it's best to expect that they'll come out with intensity. Especially considering that this is a rivalry.

Brodeur said they'll try to attack the Rangers.  To that end, Lemaire shuffled his lines before and during the 2-0 win against Carolina on Saturday to try and find some offense. What they got were shots, power plays, and changes; to show for it, the Devils got a fluke of a goal and an empty-net.  So Lemaire is still tinkering, even breaking up the ZZ Pops unit by switching centers around. Here is what he lined up in practice yesterday, per this post by Gulitti.

Zach Parise - Dainius Zubrus - Jamie Langenbrunner
Nicklas Bergfors - Travis Zajac - David Clarkson
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Brian Rolston
  Andrew Peters - Rod Pelley - Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond

Paul Martin - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Johnny Oduya - Andy Greene

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

Honestly, I really hope that's not going to be the fourth line.  The rest, I can live with, but does Andrew Peters and Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond really have to be in tonight?  I'm aware of who Donald Brashear is, and I'm aware he'll contribute as much offensively as Peters.   I'm not saying Matt Halischuk equals wins (and if he does get in, he goes up with Bergfors and Clarkson goes down to the fourth line), but I feel he could contribute more in tonight's game.  Of course, I'm complaining about a line that will get no more than 12 minutes, so perhaps it's quibbling.

On defense, note that Oduya is still not with Martin. While Martin-Salvador looked alright against Carolina, I fear the freewheeling offense of the Rangers' top line (at least) could exploit Salvador's lack of speed.  If Oduya looks good at the start of the game, I don't think anyone should be surprised if he's moved back to Martin at some point in the game.  Among the other changes I'm sure Lemaire will make for adjustments, match-ups, offense sparking, etc. at forward.

Now, let's get to the Rangers. I'd like to thank Jim Schmiedeberg and Joe Fortunato at Blueshirt Banter for taking the time to hear my questions out and especially to Joe for answering them.

Question 1.  The New York Rangers enjoyed a 7 game winning streak before being lit up by San Jose 7-3.  Do you think the loss will bring the Rangers back down to Earth, or do you think they'll bounce back on Thursday night?

JF: To be honest I hope it was a wake up call. I wrote in my post this morning that the Rangers need to stop taking so many penalties and need to play a full 60 minutes every game. As for being brought down to earth? I don't think there is anything to be brought back down to. The Rangers are a very good team this year, they obviously were not going to go 81-0, but I think they are a much better team that people give them credit for.

Question 2. Jim noted in this post that the Rangers have tended to play poorly in the second period.  Yet, the Rangers have given up nearly as many goals in the first period (8) as they have in the second (9) so far this season.  Despite the wins, wouldn't that suggest they start out sluggish in terms of defense? 

JF: I think just looking at the goals given up doesn't tell the entire story. The Rangers have been completely outplayed in the second period. As for the 8 goals you reference given up in the first period, 3 of them came in the Rangers two losses on the season. Which spreads 5 goals between 7 games. I think that the Rangers have been very good in the first period, controlling play and keeping the opposing team at bay.

Question 3. Let's talk goaltenders.  I'm assuming Henrik Lundqvist will get the start on Thursday night; what tendencies has he shown so far this season?  (Note: Domination is not really a clear answer for a tendency.)

JF: Henrik Lundqvist has only changed one thing this season. He is using a softer glove which allows him to control his rebounds better when it comes to making glove saves. Aside from that he has been the usual Henrik Lundqvist. Bailing out the Rangers when they needed it, and keeping his rebounds under control. I will stick by him being the best goaltender in the league. So then, yes, domination.

Question 4. Marian Gaborik has been an offensive force for the Rangers with 6 goals, 6 assists, and 39 shots this season.  I think it's fair to assume he'll make some kind of impact.  Who on the Rangers could be an unsung hero to make an impact in Thursday's game?

JF: Unsung hero? I'm going to say Chris Higgins. He is one of the only blemishes on this young season. He has yet to score a goal, and his play has decreased the past 5 games. It has been nine games, he needs to pot one eventually.

Question 5. Lastly, do you have a prediction for tonight's game?

JF: I think that the Rangers are going to bounce back from their loss to the Sharks. Call it 4-2 Rangers.

I'll have to disagree (of course) with some of it.   Like the prediction.  Also, while Lundqvist is enjoying a fantastic start, I think Marc-Andre Fleury, Craig Anderson, Ryan Miller and especially Ilya Bryzgalov can make better cases than the so-called "King" so far in this young season.  Though that's moot as the Devils won't be shooting at any of them, just Lundqvist and his ridiculously huge, gigantic leg pads hopefully past his new, softer glove. 

All the same, big thanks to Joe at Blueshirt Banter for answering my questions for this preview.

Basically, I feel that the game will ultimately decided in the second period.  Sure, you want to see the Devils set the tempo, get an early goal, and pin the Rangers back largely in their own end.  I certainly wouldn't complain.  But if the Devils can take control of the game after getting through the first period, after initial adjustments have been made, and start picking up on what tendencies the Rangers' defense and Lundqvist are making, then I feel they have the best chance to get their fourth win. 

I also feel that a one-goal lead certainly won't get the job done unless it's absolutely late in the game.  I really would like the Devils to go up two goals on an opponent this time this season and if it can be done against Our Hated Rivals, all the better.   Again, the idea is to get some revenge for the last loss and getting points is the best kind of revenge (with respect to the season overall).

Please leave all your comments, questions, concerns, and thoughts about tonight's game here prior to the GameThread brought to you by Steve (accept no substitutes unless they write at ILWT).  As it is a road game, I'll be joining in with my own live comments - so feel free to jump in as well.   Go Devils!