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Game 33 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (18-13-1) vs. the New York Rangers (18-8-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils followed up Scott Neidermayer Night with a game in Montreal on Saturday. Fatigue on their second back-to-back set of the week was not an issue. Some defensive zone coverage and discipline issues, were more paramount. Yet, the Devils scored first, tied up Montreal near the end of the second period just while Montreal had a 3-2 lead, and the Devils took control and killed off the game with two more goals. The Devils won 5-3 to win their fourth straight with the game winning goal by Patrik Elias, who became the all-time franchise leader with his second goal of the game. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Rangers Game: While the Devils were in Quebec, the Rangers went to Glendale, Arizona to play the Coyotes. It was certainly a game with it's up and downs. While the Rangers scored first, the Coyotes scored a shorthanded goal with 9 seconds left in the first period to tie it up. The score remained deadlocked in the second until there was 52 seconds left, when Phoenix converted a power play to go up 2-1. Marian Gaborik scored his second of the game to tie it up early in the third period. Overtime seemed certain until Brad Richards threw a sharp angle shot at the net. It went off the post and over the line with .1 seconds on the scoreboard. It counted, and the Rangers won 3-2. Bryan Winters has this recap of the fortunate win at Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal: Shoot to win. The New York Rangers have a notably negative shot differential. In all situations, they allow an average of 30.2 shots against per game while only generating 27.6 shots for per game. In 5-on-5 play per Behind the Net, they have a SA/60 of 30.4 and a SF/60 of 26.4. This is a team that isn't just well below 50% in close-score Fenwick percentage; but they are the only team in the NHL that below 50% in all listed situations at Behind the Net. Even when they're losing, they're usually getting out-attempted. That is something the Devils really have to exploit tonight. A big reason why they got wins over Florida and Montreal last week was that they just owned the puck. They were down in possession against Dallas except for the Adam Henrique line which was still positive and still shooting quite a bit. It's no coincidence that the Devils put up more than 30 shots on net in those three games, likewise, it's no coincidence that they scored the goals needed to get a result. The cliché is old, but it's true. If you want to win, then you have to score. If you want to score, shoot the puck. Bomb away, Devils.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. If, for some odd reason you want the opposition's point of view on this game, then please check out Blueshirt Banter.

So if Our Hated Rivals are so bad in Fenwick%, then why do they have such a good record? Like Minnesota, they're succeeding elsewhere to make up for it. First and foremost, the team has been shooting incredibly well at 5-on-5. According to Behind the Net, they have the third highest shooting percentage in the league at 9.6%. This is being driven by players exceeding expectations. Their biggest example is Brad Richards, who is shooting at 16.2%. That's very good. Richards never finished a season higher than 11.7%. Since he's been in the league for quite a while; it's fair to think that he's not likely going to keep that up. Just like the team.

Their 5-on-4 shooting percentage is also quite high. They have the fifth highest percentage in the league at 14.3% per Behind the Net. Yet, why is their overall power play success rate only 16.5%, the twentieth in the league? Easy: they don't generate a lot of shots on their power play. Their SF/60 rate is a mere 41.8. How bad is that? The Devils power play generates 41.8 SF/60. Only two teams have a lower rate in the league. The Rangers aren't just riding a high shooting percentage at 5-on-5 but also on their power plays.

2011-12 - Henrik Lundqvist 23 1390 12 7 4 48 2.07 706 658 .932 .938 2

On the flipside of shooting percentage, they have one of the highest team save percentages in the league at 5-on-5 with 93.5%. At first, this doesn't seem so shocking; Henrik Lundqvist is a very talented goaltender. Some fans like to slag him; but game respects game. The problem is that even he's doing better than he's ever done before. His even strength save percentage stands at 93.8% and it wasn't too long ago that it was a bit above 94%. Like Nicklas Backstrom, this isn't likely to last as very few goaltenders finish a full season with such a high save percentage. After all, here is Lundqvist's even strength save percentage in his last five seasons: 93%, 92.9%, 92%, 92.2%, and 93.1%. I would expect him to drop to those levels eventually. While they're still good, it'll still mean more goals against. Boosting the team percentage is Martin Biron, who's been statistically better (and more unsustainable) than Lundqvist. It isn't at all likely the Devils will see him tonight, as Lundqvist is their #1 goalie.

So, this Rangers team really doesn't look set for the long-term. Once the shooting percentages and/or save percentages cool off, the Rangers will fall back a bit since, as noted earlier, they tend to get significantly out-shot at evens which isn't the sign of a good team. There is a caveat however. From the comments of Gabe Desjardens Fenwick power rankings, the Rangers have reached above that 50% in more recent games. It may not be a cakewalk when it comes to possession, and the Devils have shown a lack of offense against teams who get out-shot regularly (e.g. the two Islanders games) before.

2011-12 - Marian Gaborik 30 17 10 27 3 14 5 0 2 108 15.7
2011-12 - Brad Richards 30 12 14 26 -3 4 3 0 4 74 16.2
2011-12 - Ryan Callahan 30 12 11 23 0 31 5 1 3 90 13.3

With respect to tonight's game, it'll certainly be a challenge all the same. Richards' shooting percentage isn't going to drop overnight. Marian Gaborik is firing them in at rate previously seen in his career; given that he leads the Rangers in shots on goal, he's a top threat. Ryan Callahan is just a bit ahead of any other previous percentage in his career; he still remains the Rangers' only other scorer in double digits. Those three are the Rangers' most dangerous forwards. They're supported by the likes of Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky up front with Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh on the back end. All of whom have double digit assists. Based on Andrew Gross' report from Monday's practice, Callahan and Richards will be together with Dubinsky. I suspect they've been together for quite a while since they have usually took on tougher competition than the trio of Anisimov, Stepan, and Gaborik this season. Likewise, I would expect the Richards line to go up against the Henrique line as much as John Tortorella can get that match-up.

As for defense, the Rangers are dealing with several injuries. They are without Marc Staal, Michael Sauer, possibly Jeff Woywitka, and as of Monday now without Steve Eminger for 2 months. It's bad. Andrew Gross of the Bergen Record has a summary of their injury situation right here. The New York blueline has been led by Dan Girardi (27:35 ATOI!!!) and McDonagh (25:05 ATOI!). According to Behind the Net, the duo has faced difficult competition all season while usually starting in their own end of the rink. I would think John Tortorella will try and get them out there against the Henrique line. As suggested by the team stats, they're not positive possession players; so the hope of pinning them back repeatedly is quite possible. Especially since the Rangers defense is not nearly at full strength. As far as replacements go, Devils training camp reject Anton Stralman has been getting regular minutes. More recently, Stu Bickel has been called up to replace Eminger; and Tim Erixon has been called up due to a questionable injury for Jeff Woywitka. Erixon will only play if Woywitka really can't play; but it does mean at least two non-regular defensemen will get minutes tonight. In other words, this is a defense that the Devils shouldn't have too much problem with; especially given how the Devils forwards have played in the last three games. Especially with all of the injuries they are currently suffering. Solving Lundqvist is another matter; but with more and more shots, they'll surely find a way.

The one line on the Devils to watch out for is the Henrique line. For the uninitiated, that's Zach Parise, Adam Henrique, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Weeks ago, this line struggled to do much. Now, they're hot. They're torching defenses, they're pushing the play forward, and they're getting points. Kovalchuk is cycling more, Henrique is now instinctively trailing off the rush in support of either player, and Parise is just a shot-machine as he leads New Jersey with 121 shots. The play of this line was a big reason why they're on a four game winning streak; and the hope can continue for a few more games.

It would also help out if Patrik Elias is healthy. No, he's not injured; he was reported as "ill" and didn't participate in Monday's practice according to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Elias tied the old mark and became the all-time team leader in goals with two on Saturday. He's been the team's top scorer all season and would be the best option to take on the Rangers' best players. Missing him for a game would hurt, especially one against a hated rival. Hopefully, he's feeling better on Tuesday.

There's a little less hope for Henrik Tallinder. He didn't skate or practice today either; and so Gulitti's not confident he'll play tonight. While it's not as dire as the Rangers' situation, the Devils blueline is significantly weaker without Tallinder and Andy Greene. Should Tallinder not play, it'll probably mean Matt Taormina will play in his place. Taormina's been OK; but more pressure will be put on Bryce Salvador to fill in from a quality standpoint. Salvador has been very good in the last two games, logging heavy minutes and not getting blown apart. Another big game from him can ease the loss of Tallinder for another night. It would also be beneficial if Anton Volchenkov can step up his game by not stepping up to make it three games in a row where he's taken a minor penalty.

One final note: this will be the first time the Devils and Rangers have played each other this season. Given where both teams are in the standings, a Devils win would do wonders should they want to catch the Rangers in the Atlantic Division. Since the Rangers have games in hand on the Penguins and aren't too far away from the Flyers, the Pennsylvania teams should be hoping for a Devils win as well. Let's hope all good people get what they want - a Devils victory.

Those conclude my thoughts on tonight's game. Will the Devils extend their winning streak by beating Our Hated Rivals? What do you think it will will it take to beat them? Who on the Rangers concerns you the most? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.