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Game 51 Preview: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (17-30-3) at the New York Rangers (29-20-4)

The Last Devils Game: The start was slow, but the second period was Devils domination of the Ottawa Senators.  Seriously, the Sens didn't mount much of an attack until the third period.  Goaltender Robin Lehner was the big reason why the Devils only won 2-1 instead of a larger margin.  My recap of the game details how much the game was in New Jersey's favor.

The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers got Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky back to play the Pittsburgh Penguins after the All Star break.  The Rangers lost an early 2-0 lead, but Callahan equalized on a power play resulting from Jordan Staal suckerpunching Brandon Prust.  The tie eventually required a shootout, which the Penguins won in seven rounds. John Merrigan has a dispassionate recap of the Rangers' 4-3 shootout loss at Blueshirt Banter.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game:  This was the first game after Jacques Lemaire ran some practices for the Devils and it showed.  The Devils put up a valiant effort, but Henrik Lundqvist stood on his head to preserve the lead for the Rangers. The Rangers eventually won the game 3-1.  I felt the Devils played a fine game and said so in my recap, namely because of Lundqvist and bad luck (the game winner bounced off Andy Greene's elbow).  Nick Montemagno expressed a similar sentiment in his recap at Blueshirt Banter - the Devils outplayed the Rangers but the visitors prevailed.

The Goal: Don't get caught up in the rivalry too much.  The fact is that the Rangers are likely going to the postseason and the Devils will almost definitely miss the playoffs.  It's still a rivalry game, and the Rangers are still Our Hated Rivals.  But the outcome isn't going to mean too much given that both teams are in vastly different situations.  Add to the fact the game's at the future site of Renovationfest and the Rangers have a few goony players, then it's to the Devils' benefit to stay calm and collected as possible.  This way they can focus on trying to win the game at hand.  Fortunately, the Devils players' quotes in this post by Tom Gulitti on Fire & Ice on Wednesday shows that they understand this.

Beyond that, the Devils try to replicate what they did in the last Devils-Rangers game and hope Henrik Lundqvist isn't on fire.

I have a few more thoughts about tonight's game after the jump. For a Rangers' take, please check out Blueshirt Banter.

This Devils-Rangers game will end a 3 game homestand for Our Hated Rivals. It hasn't gone well. They lost to Florida 4-3 just before the All Star break and they lost to Pittsburgh 4-3 in a shootout just after the break.  The Rangers should be pumped just to try and get a win in front of their home crowd before going on a 3 game road trip. As if there needed to be more incentive for the Rangers to get a win on top of the other particulars mentioned before the jump.

In addition, they'll get another player back from injury tonight. Andrew Gross of Ranger Rants reported on Wednesday that Vinny Prospal will make his season debut for the Rangers.  He had to get knee surgery and has since been rehabbing.  Prospal has been a fairly productive player in his career. Since it's his first game this season, I anticipate a lot of rust tonight, but over time he'll boost their offense.    Per Gross' post, he'll likely play on a scoring line with Marian Gaborik and rookie Derek Stepan.

Incidentally, the Rangers' offense is fairly strong at the top.  They have 6 forwards with 10 or more goals, 5 of them have over 100 shots on goal with Ryan Callahan just behind them with 96, and the return of Dubinsky (1 assist against Pens) and Callahan (1 goal against Pens) from injury has looked good early.   You may know Gaborik (16 G, 16 A) along with Dubinsky, but get used to seeing Stepan (14 G, 16 A) and Artem Anisimov (11 G, 16 A) too as they represent the future of the Rangers at forward along with Callahan and Dubinsky.

2010-11 - Brian Boyle 53 18 10 28 10 42 4 1 2 138 13.0

The biggest surprise for the Rangers, and a big danger in his own right, is Brian Boyle.  The 6'7" pivot leads the team with 18 goals, first in shots on net, he's third on the team, and his shooting percentage is quite good.  It's been a real breakout season for him, currently in his second full NHL season and having scored only 8 points in 71 games last season.  Boyle's also hot as of late with 2 goals and 2 assists along with 16 shots on net in his last 4 games. Incidentally, per Gross' report on Wednesday, he could be lining up with Mats Zucarello and the enforcer Brandon Prust tonight.  Two-thirds of that line is rather beefy; Zucarello is 5'7" and 174 lbs. He's the "small" on the line.

Despite a solid group of forwards at the top, the Rangers are in the middle of the road when it comes to scoring. They are tied for 13th in the NHL with an average of 2.76 goals per game; while tied with the Devils for 20th in the NHL with an average of 29.2 shots per game.  Beyond those 6 forwards, there's not a whole lot to write about.  While they are getting healthier, they could be missing Ruslan Fedotenko and his 9 goals.  He'll be out tonight and for a few weeks due to an appendix issue per this report by Andrew Gross.

On defense, the main pairing appears to be Marc Staal (25:34) and Dan Girardi (24:17) for the Rangers.  They've logged big minutes throughout the season, so I would imagine they'll be matched up with Ilya Kovalchuk as much as possible. Though, if coach John Tortorella was clever, he'd match them against the hot line of Brian Rolston-Patrik Elias-Dainius Zubrus.   Even if the Devils break through, the big concern will remain trying to beat this guy assuming he's the starter:

2010-11 - Henrik Lundqvist 41 2418 21 16 93 2.31 1215 1122 .923 7

Remember: he was a big reason why the Rangers won the last game against the Devils. Good luck, Devils skaters.

Moving onto the Devils, Martin Brodeur didn't practice on Wednesday.  He was given a day off for some soreness according to this report by Tom Gulitti.  If he's still good to go on Thursday, he'll be the starter.  If he's not, then I wouldn't be too concerned.  The last time the Devils played a hated rival, Jacques Lemaire boldly started Johan Hedberg and he played splendidly against the Flyers' attack.  Since the Devils play on Friday, Hedberg will likely start one of these two games anyway. A Moose sighting at MSG doesn't concern me given his last start.

The happier news out of New Jersey involves the defense.  Gulitti reported that Colin White felt fine after playing against Ottawa and went through all of Wednesday's practice.  A healthy White is a good benefit for the Devils, if only for not requiring a young defenseman to eat up his minutes.  Mark Fayne also has been feeling better. He participated in Wednesday's practice, also reported by Gulitti. Hopefully he's rested enough to play a competitive game of hockey. 

When I was looking at White's underlying numbers at 5-on-5 this season a few days ago, I found that Fayne hasn't been bad at all at 5-on-5 given his current workload.   A defense consisting of Henrik Tallinder, Greene, White, Fayne, Volchenkov, and Fraser/Salmela isn't a bad one at all.   Plus, Fayne's return eases my concern of getting closer to kick in Alexander Urbom's ELC for this season.   Incidentally, Gulitti noted that Mark Fraser was on the fourth pairing with Urbom in his lines for Wednesday's practice.   While I would appreciate Fraser's physical game against some of the beefier Rangers players; Fraser could run counter to my "stay calm against a rival" hope.  I could go either way on the #6 guy, but let's hope Anssi Salmela doesn't hesitate around the puck should he indeed play tonight.

In terms of forwards according to Gulitti's post on practice, Adam Mair was rotating with David Clarkson. I'm not convinced this necessarily means Mattias Tedenby will play tonight.  I'd like to see him play and give the wings some more speed.  That said, if Lemaire is planning to play Ilya Kovalchuk a lot, Lemaire may prefer to bench Mair for extra shifts over benching Tedenby or someone else. (Why not Tim Sestito, Lemaire? He's terrible.)  

Regardless, the forward line to watch out for is Rolston-Elias-Zubrus.  Rolston and Elias each have 6 game point streaks; and Zubrus just broke his 4 game pointless streak with the game winner in Ottawa.  Their Corsi has collectively been strong and they can hurt a team that focuses too much of their best defenders on whenever Kovalchuk is on the ice.  And if Kovalchuk has a good game like he did against Ottawa, then it's even sweeter.

One last factoid, the Rangers are the only team in the Atlantic Division the Devils have not yet beat this season.  Since the Langenbrunner trade, the Devils have beaten the Islanders 5-2, the Penguins 2-0, and the Flyers 3-1 (and lost to them 2-1 earlier).  A win tonight would do more than just get bragging rights over Our Hated Rivals, but finally claim at least one victory over their divisional opponents.   Another piece of evidence that the Devils aren't the doormats they were under John MacLean.

As usual, there will be a Gamethread up later, closer to game time.  In the meantime, please feel free to discuss today's game in the comments. If you want to post any news updates (or corrections or what-have-you), then please do so in the comments with a link to the source.  Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.