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Game 66 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

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Devils: Make this guy work hard tonight.  You know, the opposite of what he had to do last Tuesday.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Devils: Make this guy work hard tonight. You know, the opposite of what he had to do last Tuesday. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

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

The Game: The New Jersey Devils (36-24-5) vs. the New York Rangers (42-15-7)

The Last Devils Game: On Sunday afternoon, the Devils visited the New York Islanders for the first of three games against them in this week. It was a frustrating afternoon with the Devils offense spending the first two periods like they "played" against the Rangers last Tuesday; and putting up a simpler, more prolific effort in the third period that was all for naught in the third. The Isles looked great in the run of play. Their power play was threatening, the John Tavares line gave the Devils fits, their defense was well-positioned and rarely coughed up the puck, and Kyle Okposo overpowered Anton Volchenkov for a goal. Because the Devils were so lame for most of the game, that goal stood as the winner in a 1-0 loss to a rookie goaltender. My recap of the game is here.

The Last Rangers Game: Earlier that Sunday, the Rangers hosted the Boston Bruins in a game that aired on national television. The Rangers struck first and had the Bruins reeling within the first six minutes of the game. Ruslan Fedotenko and Carl Hagelin scored 70 seconds apart to give the Rangers an early 2-0 lead. Benoit Pouliot scored a little later to get the Bruins on the board and the Bruins equalized early in the second period thanks to Jordan Caron's slapshot. The Bruins poured on the shots, the pressure, and the pain in the second and third periods; but the Rangers came away with the result in the third. Marian Gaborik put the Rangers up 3-2; and 39 seconds after David Krejci answered that one on a 3-on-2 rush, Derek Stepan torched Tim Thomas with a shot. The Rangers held on to win 4-3; Bryan Winters had this recap at Blueshirt Banter.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: The Devils and Rangers played each other last Tuesday. If you liked physical play and a lot of defensive efforts, then this was your game. If you liked the Devils, then you should have been disgusted with this game. While the Devils held the Rangers to 14 shots on Martin Brodeur; the Devils only put up 13. In a game they were losing 1-0 for over 40 minutes. This was a game where open shots were literally passed up which led to a Rangers stop and/or clearance, and the Devils kept repeating it. It was awful. An empty net goal sealed a 2-0 loss to Our Hated Rivals. My recap of the terrible game was here; a happier recap was written by Brandon C. of Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal: If they get a clear path to the net, then they need to shoot the puck! Yes, the exclamation mark is necessary. The Devils only put up 13 on Henrik Lundqvist last Tuesday. The Devils didn't start throwing junk at a rookie call-up goaltender on Sunday until the third period (12 in first and second; 12 in third), and even in that game the Devils tried to shoot through players to unsurprisingly little effect. The Devils got shutout in both games and they were relatively easy for each goaltender. I understand that Lundqvist has been incredible this season and has given the Devils problems in the past. The Devils need at least make Lundqvist work to earn his paycheck to have a chance at winning. Get shots!

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

Since the Devils just played the Rangers last Tuesday, we know what the Rangers are all about. We know they're going to be the first to clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. We know they're likely going to finish first in the East at this rate. They get results in games regardless of how the game goes, as evidenced by their league-low 15 regulation losses. They are led by Henrik Lundqvist, who has been playing out of his mind with a 94.2% save percentage at even strength. They get scoring from several different players as they have 6 players with at least 12 goals and 7 players with at least 100 shots on net. They're even getting closer to becoming a 50% Fenwick team in close-score situations (Behind the Net has them at 49.12%) after being down in the dregs of 45% earlier this season. As much as I don't like typing it, the Rangers are a quality team.

They have quality players, too. Just peep their counting numbers at Their two big-money players have been earning that money. Marian Gaborik leads the team in scoring with 38 goals, 58 points, and 219 shots on net. Brad Richards has played his part with 18 goals, 27 assists, and 171 shots on net. Ryan Callahan has been similarly crucial in playing in all situations and contributing 25 goals and 22 assists. They are well supported by Derek Stepan and his overall game with 14 goals and 29 assists, Artem Anisimov and his 13 goals and 19 assists, Carl Hagelin with his speed and 12 goals and 16 assists, and Brian Boyle being big and putting up 122 shots on net - though only 5 goals. Stopping whatever line Gaborik is on is always a good way to go, but it's not going to shut down the Rangers attack entirely.

On the backend, the Rangers are well supported by their forwards there as well. It's not uncommon to see four or five Rangers position themselves below the faceoff dots when the other team is attacking. John Tortorella became notorious for "never scared" in Tampa Bay, but in New York, his defensive tactic is "hang back and clog it up." With one of the league's better 5-on-5 SA/60 rates at 28.2, it's certainly effective. Michael Del Zotto returned to the lineup after a minor hip injury, which boosts a blueline that already boasts Marc Staal (who's back to playing big minutes), Ryan McDonagh, and Dan Girardi. According to Behind the Net, their on-ice Corsi rates are rather poor but the other team isn't teeing up with a relative ton of shots on net either. It's not going to be easy for the Devils to puncture this defense and get inside low unless someone's having a real bad game. The Devils would be well served to take some shots from distance to try and spread out the Rangers defense. They definitely need to take whatever opportunities to get a shot on net regardless of where they are on the ice.

In addition to taking more shooting attempts and getting on net, I believe the Devils need to display a lot more discipline. David Clarkson especially needs to keep a cool head. Given the Devils' recent offensive woes, a 20+ goal, 150+ SOG forward cannot spend 19 minutes in the penalty box like he did last Tuesday. He hurt the team - and nearly Brandon Dubinsky with a flying bodycheck - in that sense. As it turned out, the refs didn't hand a lot of power plays to the Rangers last Tuesday - just two and the Rangers' power play has been notoriously ineffective this season. However, the Devils got stupid against the Isles and handed them five power plays, including a 5-on-3 situation that last over a minute. They nearly paid the price several times and just escaped with no goals allowed. Even if the Devils shut down the Isles' power play, it was still over 8 minutes where the team could not attack normally. In a game where goals could be few and far between, the Devils can ill afford to hand the other team so many power plays. Likewise, they can't assume that Stephen Walkom and Brad Watson - the refs from last Tuesday's game - will call the game the same way, assuming they're doing this game at all. I know rivalry games like this pique the emotions and emotional players tend to do undisciplined things. I believe the Devils need to keep their cool and focus on the actual game at hand and not whatever Dubinksy/Rupp/Scott/etc. is saying/doing.

Speaking of goals being few and far between, the Devils also need to play to the score. If they're down a goal, then the gameplan needs to become "get aggressive." This did not happen against the Rangers as their shot count across all three periods was 4, 6, and 3. Those aren't typos either. 3 shots in a third period down a score - it's been a week and I still can't believe it. We actually saw this in the Isles game, though it wasn't terribly effective. Still, the Devils did play to the score somewhat and doubled their shot count while down a score after two periods. That's an improvement. Hopefully, the Devils will take it to that next level tonight. To reiterate the goal: the Devils got to shoot to win and even if they are winning, shots will keep the Rangers honest. The recent win over Boston is proof it's not a panacea, but it's a far better way to go than whatever was thrown up last week.

While the Rangers apparently seem fully healthy, the Devils still have some injury concerns. Alexei Ponikarovsky got a MRI on Saturday and the results came out good according to Tom Gulitti. Even though he was held out of Sunday's game, he could be back tonight. This would be great if only because it would mean one of Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen will have to sit. Ponikarovsky can actually play hockey and can contribute on the third line. If not, well, we hope to see him soon. I know the fourth line is terrible, but it's a red herring when the rest of the team is playing dumb in the other team's end of the rink. A good fourth line isn't going to be seen anytime soon, but that's not anything we didn't know already. The top nine has to drive the bus, and a healthy Ponikarovsky makes that easier.

Andy Greene also did not play against the Islanders due to back spasms. As Rich Chere reported after Sunday's loss, Greene was fine according to Peter DeBoer coming to the rink, but his back acted up during warm-ups on Sunday. I hope his back will be fine to play tonight so the Devils can have the best six defensemen available on the ice. Still, he remains day-to-day based on what is currently known. At least Zach Parise's left hand is OK according to this report by Tom Gulitti.

As one final thought, let me point out that if there's anything to expect from this game is that it should be a close game. The expected starters, Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur, will do what they can do to keep it close. They succeeded in the last two games, which were 1-0 and 0-2 (the second was an empty net goal) respectively. Prior to that, the Devils came from behind twice to force OT against the Rangers and won in a shootout. Call it coincidence, call it rivalry, but it's not an exception either.

In any case, I want to know what you think and feel going into this game. Will the Devils get more than 13 shots on net in 60 minutes? Who will be the first Devil to score a goal after four straight scoreless periods? Do you think this game will get ugly or will both teams play a tough, yet clean game? Other than the obvious, what do you think the Devils need to do to get back to winning ways? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.