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Game 57 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers

The Time: 7 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (36-18-2) at the New York Rangers (25-26-7)

The Last Devils Game: After a decent first period, it all went pear-shaped for the Devils in the second period when the Toronto Maple Leafs struck for 3 goals, 2 on the power play. Down 3-1, the Devils spent the first 15-16 minutes of the third period not showing much of anything. And then Vladimir Zharkov found Dean McAmmond who got a lifeline for the Devils. A late power play goal from Travis Zajac equalized the game, and Jay Pandolfo scored his fourth of the season and his third game winning goal (!!!) off a rebound to steal a win in regulaiton from the Leafs, 4-3. Ilya Kovalchuk made his big debut, playing over 21 minutes and putting together two assists. My recap of the game goes over all the good and all of the bad.

The Last Rangers Game: Who says this team can't score goals? The Rangers put up a five-spot on the Capitals on Thursday, including four on the power play. Recently acquired Olli Jokinen put up 7 shots, a power play goal, and an assist. The other four goals were scored by Ryan Callahan (PP), Brandon Dubinsky (PP), and Vinny Prospal (PP and EV). Marian Gaborik only had 2 assists and 6 shots on net. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they were playing the red-hot Capitals and the game was a shootout. Unfortunately, the Capitals have the talent to hang in there in a goal-fest and ultimately put up 6 on the Rangers to win 6-5 thanks in part to two power play goals for the Caps by ex-Ranger Tom Poti and Nicklas Backstrom in the third period. Poor Rangers! NYRBlogger did this recap over at Blueshirt Banter.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: Back at MSG on January 12, the NHL fans saw the rare-double shutout. Both Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist had a goaltender's duel that could only be described as "epic." The Devils and Rangers put shot after shot after shot on their respective opposing goaltenders and nothing would go in. Not after 60 minutes, not after a 5 minute overtime, and not even after the first three rounds of the shootout! Thankfully, one goaltender had to blink, one goalie had to be beaten tonight, and Patrik Elias was the man to do it. He roofed it past Lundqvist in the shootout's fourth round, knocking both the water bottle off his goal as well as the Rangers. The Devils won the game 1-0 in the shootout, putting their season series record over the Rangers at 2-1. My recap of that game can be found here; for Blueshirt Banter, NYRBlogger took care of recapping duties.

The Goal: Great come-from-behind-win, Devils, but don't get cocky and think you can win games like that - get it together, literally. In the last two Toronto games, the Devils were largely playing with different mindsets. Teammates were rarely on the same page. It was like communication was a problem or something. The defense struggled to get the puck out of their own zone and onto the sticks of their fellow Devils. The offense tried to dish the puck too much instead of taking the simpler route or just shooting it as necessary. It was even admitted by a few teammates that they tried to give Ilya Kovalchuk the puck a little too much, per this article by Rich Chere. Yes, the Devils got it together late and that's a big boost to everyone's confidence. But they cannot play like they did last night or as they did on Tuesday and expect to win games. Kovalchuk or any singular player alone cannot do that, this is something the players need to solve for themselves. They must skate, pass, defend, and shoot as a team going forward. Otherwise, I don't see how they'll win tonight.

Check out Blueshirt Banter for the Rangers' side of things. Already there is a pre-game post already up. Read on for my further thoughts on tonight's game.

Now, with the big come-from-behind victory, the Devils are still a team that you could say that has been struggling. They are 4-5-1 in their last 10 and have scored only 6 goals while conceding 9 in their last 3 games. That said, the Rangers have been struggling more. They're 3-7-0 in their last 10, they won one of their last 8, and Thursday's game was the first time since January 19 (8-2 win over Tampa Bay) that they scored more than 4 goals in a game.

On the basis of both teams scoring several goals in their last games, I'm sure each team's offenses have reason to feel good going into tonight. On the basis of their recent records, I would think both head coaches would want their defenses to play far better than they have been. Ultimately, I feel that's really going to make the difference. Which team's defense is actually going to hold itself up well? Which team's defense will make the fewest mistakes? I doubt we're going to see another double shutout by Brodeur and Lundqvist, so who ever is playing tighter and smarter in their own zone will have the edge.

2009 - Martin Brodeur 53 3084 33 17 115 2.24 1404 1289 .918 7
2009 - Henrik Lundqvist 50 2872 22 21 118 2.47 1424 1306 .917 2

Going back to a Devils perspective, because this is a Devils-centric blog, I'd like the team to special attention to where they put their sticks and bodies. While refs last night missed a few calls (like Vladimir Zharkov taking an elbow to the face, Kovalchuk getting picked yet dinged for a minor), the penalties hurt the Devils as Toronto scored twice on the power play. Tonight they will face a team that went 4 for 6 on their power play in their last game. Even if the PK units are willing, ready, and able to have huge nights, the Devils can avoid making the game more difficult for them just by staying out of the box.

By the same token that same team conceded 9 power plays to the Washington Capitals on Thursday, so the Devils would be wise to take initiative in getting the puck deep and into traffic in front of the net - if only to draw calls. It worked in getting that late power play in the third period last night, I hope Lemaire instructs the Devils to really get into the Rangers faces and force the Blueshirts to commit infractions.

Speaking of Lemaire, what will we see from the Devils tonight? Well, it wouldn't surprise me at all if all who played against Toronto were to play tonight. Personally, I'd like to see Rod Pelley swapped in for one of Pierre-Luc Leblond-Letourneau or Andrew Peters. While both Peters and Leblond didn't do anything bad on Friday, they still get less than 5 minutes of ice time. Putting both in the lineup pretty much shortens the bench right from the get-go. With Pelley, the impact is lessened, there's still some BEEF in the lineup, and sonly one forward has to take limited minutes that is made up elsewhere.

From Gulitti's post game post last night, Lemaire is thinking about putting Kovalchuk along side of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. An interesting combo. I feel that's putting all of the offensive talent into one line, but if the Rangers defense can't handle it, then by all means, pour it on. Dainius Zubrus has been playing real well and Jamie Langenbrunner is starting to comeback into production (2 assists last night), that could fill in on a second line. When Patrik Elias comes back (I don't think it's tonight, but there's no update right now), such a move would be more palatable. Either way, I expect Lemaire to mix the forwards up until there's some consistently good play across the group. A little understandable in the case of Kovalchuk since he's still fitting in with the team. So I will guess at this line up knowing full well it won't mean much as the game begins:

Ilya Kovalchuk - Travis Zajac - Zach Parise
Brian Rolston - Dainius Zubrus - Vladimir Zharkov
Jay Pandolfo - Rob Niedermayer - Jamie Langenbrunner
Rod Pelley - Dean McAmmond - Pierre-Luc Leblond-Letourneau

Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Anssi Salmela - Mark Fraser

Martin Brodeur
Yann Danis

And I hope that Anssi Salmela has a smarter game, especially if he's going to get more than, say, 17 minutes tonight.

So what's new with the Rangers? No more Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins, they have been traded for this guy:

2009 - Olli Jokinen 58 12 25 37 0 59 3 0 2 0 173 6.9

Talented, yes. But will he stick in NY? Who knows. He has an expiring contract so if he's bad, the Rangers will have some cap space to blow more money on a player than he's worth in the summer. But seriously, he does make the team stronger at center, he's another forward who can/will fire the puck often if given a little space, and more importantly, he's another player that demands attention when he's on the ice. Beating the Rangers will take more than just limiting Callahan and Dubinsky and just outright stopping these two:

2009 - Marian Gaborik 56 34 34 68 11 33 12 1 3 0 215 15.8
2009 - Vinny Prospal 51 11 32 43 6 26 4 1 2 0 120 9.2

Again, I really do feel defense is going to make the big difference tonight. If the Devils are going to continue their streak of looking shaky in their own zone, flinging pucks right at Leafs, making breakout passes that are easily intercepted, and not being strong at all on the puck in general, then this could be quite ugly. The strong play has to come right from the start and as they play well, the offense will be more able to do it's job up front instead of trying to come back to help out.

Steve will likely have a GameThread up closer to gametime. I will definitely be there for the game, watching the game on TV. In the meantime, feel free to use this post for your thoughts, feelings, concerns, complaints, and any news updates about tonight's game. Go Devils!