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Game 9 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers

No, Dainius, see, this is the kind of carelessness that Devils fans are disgusted with.   (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
No, Dainius, see, this is the kind of carelessness that Devils fans are disgusted with. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Time: 7 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV: MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2-5-1) at the New York Rangers (3-2-1)

The Last Devils Game:  The big story is that Ilya Kovalchuk was scratched last night.  However, that was inconsequential as the rest of the Devils struggled to put two passes together at times much less challenge Ryan Miller, Johan Hedberg let in two softies out of four total goals against, and the effort in the defensive zone was so, so, so bad and so, so, so stupid.  The Buffalo Sabres trounced the Devils 6-1 in one of the worst games by New Jersey in this early season.

The Last Rangers Game:  The Rangers, on the other hand, actually played competent hockey against Boston.  They limited the Bruins in terms of scoring chances and while they didn't get too many of their own, they generated enough goals to win either by breaks or by opportunity.  The Rangers won 3-2 and Dave Shapiro has recapped it at Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal: It's Our Hated Rivals.  For many, it's simple: "Win by any means necessary."   Especially since the Devils could use any win at this juncture. 

However, I feel I have to break it down further.  Good, fundamental hockey is required to get a win today.  This means not standing around like a statue when an opposition player is at the crease hoping for a rebound. This means doing something to a guy streaking to the net on the goalie's flank. This means keeping your legs closed on a low wrist shot (Wait, Hedberg isn't in tonight, nevermind).  This means keeping your stick on the ice and not in a player's face (cough Dainius Zubrus cough).  This means actually looking for an open player and attempting to pass it to his stick and not his skates, ankle, the other team's defensemen, etc.   This means keeping your balance when you're turning with the puck (applicable to Henrik Tallinder).  I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I have a few (emphasis on a few) more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.

The Devils are not having a morning skate today per Tom Gulitti's tweet, so any update on the team won't come until later in the day.   So Ilya Kovalchuk's status is up in the air. It really shouldn't be.  He should be in the lineup tonight if John MacLean and the Devils management want to have the best team on the ice to play Our Hated Rivals in the World's Most Overrated Arena.   A lineup like this would be satisfactory:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Patrik Elias - Jacob Josefson - Ilya Kovalchuk
Rod Pelley - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Adam Mair - Tim Sestito - David Clarkson

Colin White - Matt Taormina
Andy Greene - Olivier Magnan-Grenier
Henrik Tallinder -Matthew Corrente

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

No disrespect intended to the guy, but you can't tell me Alexander Vasyunov is anything close to a replacement not even for spot duty.   There better be one hell of a reason given if Kovalchuk isn't playing tonight.

Regardless of whether Kovalchuk sees the ice or not, the defense has to smarten up, a phrase I feel like I'm repeating over and over. Matthew Corrente may be a NHL rookie, but I'm sure it was not acceptable to give up pucks to the other team or stand around when a player is approaching him with the puck in juniors or the AHL.  Henrik Tallinder needs to play he's been in the league for 8 seasons.  Andy Greene has to play like he actually wants to get paid this summer.   Or let me make it simple: Do what Colin White has been doing.   It's not a surprise he hasn't been torched repeatedly for goals against because - get this - he's playing with some intelligence and care.

Let's move on to the Rangers.  Yes, they are without ace scorer Marian Gaborik, who is out with a separated shoulder; and captain Chris Drury, who is out with a broken finger. Both were injured in their home opener.  Yet, I'm not seeing a team that's panicking or free-falling.  They won their last two games, including freezing a if-not-hot-then-definitely-warm Boston Bruins team last night.  Henrik Lundqvist is still the most important Blueshirt for them. I would think he's a lock for tonight.  If so, then he's the latest in a long line of good-to-great goaltenders the Devils have faced this season.

2010 - Henrik Lundqvist 5 300 2 2 17 3.40 176 159 .903 0

OK, his statline isn't great.  But as we should know by now, he's way better than this.  Just like Martin Brodeur is better than his own statline.

2010 - Martin Brodeur 8 432 2 4 20 2.78 202 182 .901 2

Without Gaborik, other Rangers have filled in the scoring void in their own way.  Three players are tied for the team lead in scoring and, get this, they are home-grown young players - Derek Stepan and Antem Anisimov.

2010 - Derek Stepan 6 3 2 5 4 2 0 0 1 15 20.0
2010 - Brandon Dubinsky 6 3 2 5 -1 4 1 1 0 17 17.6
2010 - Artem Anisimov 6 3 2 5 -2 0 1 0 1 17 17.6

Due to their production so far, if the Devils want to focus on any group of players, I'd make it these three. I wouldn't go with that route considering they also have Alex Frolov or Ryan Callahan.  Both are behind these three forwards with 4 points each, and Callahan currently leads the Rangers in shots with 23.

The Devils forwards will have to contend with more than just Lundqvist being between the pipes.  From my limited understanding, Michal Rozsival hasn't been horrendous so far. In fact, he and Michael Del Zotto have been eating the most minutes on the team; averaging 25:38 and 24:01 per game, respectively.  On top of that, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have each averaged over 23 minutes per game.   The Devils offense, should it decide to show up for a whole 60 minutes, will have to contend with those four most of all.  I wish I can point to a flaw in their respective games to exploit.  Perhaps the coaching staff has a better idea.  Perhaps the coaching staff will, you know, make adjustments in-game that the players will follow in approaching this defense.  I wish I was more confident in the coaching staff to do just that.

Going back to the goal: I cannot stress enough how important it is for the Devils to play fundamentally sound hockey.  A win over Our Hated Rivals would go a long way to making everyone feel better.  Yet, it's not going to happen if players keep making critical errors in all three areas of the rink.   They did a good job on Thursday, can the team remember how to do that tonight? Let's hope so.

In advance of the Gamethread, please talk about tonight's game in the comments.  Remember to link to any news, so we all know you're not making anything up.   Let's go, Devils.  Note the comma.  It's not an easy-to-do chant, it's a command.