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New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers - Preseason Game #1 Preview

The Time: 7 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV only and it's on MSG. I hope you like Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti with your Chico!

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the New York Rangers. Both teams will begin their preseason tonight.  Please go to Blueshirt Banter if you want to learn more about the Rangers.

The Place: The game's not at MSG, it's at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY.  That's the home of the Albany Devils. However, it's technically a home game for the Rangers. In practical terms, this means they'll get the last change.  In cosmetic terms, this means the Devils will be in their road uniforms.  In broadcasting terms, well, it means the game is on TV.

The Goal: Given that this is the preseason, especially the first game for both teams, the goal isn't really to win at all costs. Sure, beating the Rangers would be nice, but it's beside the point for these games.  By October 2, these games won't matter at all.  Instead, watch these games with the players in mind.  Look to see who's in sync with certain players, who's making the right reads and getting in the right positions on defense, and who seems to be involved in the game.  It's more important that the players put in a good effort and impress the coaches; so try to look for that through the play on the ice.  If there's one thing to hope for, then hope there won't be any injuries from this game.  

Please continue on after the jump for a little more about this game, including what I think Devils fans should focus on the most.

Both teams will have a mix of NHL players, AHL players, and prospects.  Tom Gulitti got the Rangers' roster for tonight's game from Andrew Gross and posted it here at Fire & Ice.  We'll be seeing some of Henrik Lundqvist along with regulars like Brandon Dubinsky, and Dan Girardi. They'll be supported by several other players from their system. It's unknown at the time of this writing who exactly will be on the Devils tonight.  Martin Brodeur won't play according to Peter DeBoer in this post by Tom Gulitti.  Brodeur has had some stiffness in his hamstring; but given that he did practice on Tuesday, I wouldn't be terribly concerned.   In Tuesday's practice, Gulitti guessed it might be from the first group, but that's just it - a guess. If it was, someone's got to sit since the first group had 13 forwards and 7 defenseman. Either way, if there's someone you want to see and they're not playing tonight, then I wouldn't worry.  The Devils will play a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday; so whoever it is who want to see will likely get in the lineup on one of those dates if they're not in tonight.

Among other aspects of the game, I would pay special attention to the special teams.  They were a focus in camp on Tuesday.  Since the power play was horrible last season, how the units will set up will be of particular interest. I would also note who's on the point.  The Devils own official website has highlighted that they have several defensemen who have right-handed shots in camp. Whoever has a right-handed shot in the lineup tonight will get a first crack at making a case to be in New Jersey to start 11-12.  Given that the Devils have a load of defenders in camp as well, one of the many potential third-pairing defenders can help their cause by doing well on the PK, should they get shifts on it.  Plus, Travis Zajac will be unavailable for months and he was a prime player on both the power play and penalty kill. This first game will show what the Devils might plan doing about replacing him.  It'll become clearer in next week's games as to what they intend to do.  Nevertheless, if you have to pay attention to one aspect of the Devils' performance tonight, then make it the special teams.

In general, I would also keep a close eye on how the team attacks the Rangers.  DeBoer's practices have been up-tempo from the first day onward and he's said he wants the team to be more aggressive.  This will be the first night where the public can see what that looks like.  Look to see how often the team forechecks the Rangers, how the players position themselves when they do forecheck (e.g. is it a 1-2-2, is it a 1-4, etc.), and their general pace in their end of the rink.  Observe whether the Devils take some risks with their passes in the Rangers' end or through the neutral zone.  If the Devils are down in the game, then we should see whether the Devils stick to their gameplan - and vice versa, if they're winning.  While it is only the first game of preseason, we can get a sense of how aggressive DeBoer and the team wants to be on offense.

Beyond special teams and tactics, look to see who among the try outs are in tonight's game.  Petr Sykora, Steve Bernier, Anton Stralman, Thomas Nesbitt, and J.T. Barnett are all playing for a contract.  If Sykora, Bernier, or Stralman are active tonight, then keep an eye out for them as they're on the ice.  Expect them to work hard and play smart, as they have everything to gain from a good performance - even in the first preseason game of the year. Among those five, Sykora did get some notice for putting up a hat trick in the team's scrimmage on Monday (watch it here at the Devils' video page). If he can build on that tonight, assuming he plays, then it would be a sign that he might really have something to offer to the Devils.  Yes, preseason games don't mean much in the bigger picture; but performances in those games are more telling than in a training camp inter-squad scrimmage.

Lastly, I would pay attention to the goalies. Usually, teams in preseason will split the games so both goalies get to see some action.  With Brodeur definitely out for tonight, someone other than Johan Hedberg (assuming he plays) should get to face some shots tonight. It may not be Scott Wedgewood, who had a lower-body strain according to Tom Gulitti on Tuesday and practiced with the third group and Brodeur.  Therefore, I doubt he'll be in tonight, but I could be wrong.  Jeff Frazee and Keith Kinkaid are likely the goalies for Albany this season; if they get some action tonight, then how they'll do could be seen as a sign of what will happen going forward. Look to see how they're positioned and how they react after shots, for example.  Maxime Clermont isn't in such a spot, but if he gets some minutes, then he can show how he's improved (the same can be said for Wedgewood if he's somehow available). And if Johan Hedberg is in net, then all you need to hope for is that the Moose doesn't make a bad decision on a dumped-in puck.   While New Jersey isn't looking for goaltenders now, a good impression in this preseason by anyone could be beneficial in the future.

While that's what I think are of particular note in tonight's game, what will you be focusing on as you watch tonight's game?  Is there a player or two you want to see in action? What are your expectations for this game? Please feel free to leave your answers and other comments on tonight's game in the comments.  Thanks for reading.