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New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers: Game Preview #18

A rivalry returns to Madison Square Garden Rangerstown tonight. The New Jersey Devils will play a different and stronger New York Rangers team tonight and this preview goes over those changes and other thoughts.

Carter! Lundqvist! A rivalry resumes tonight!
Carter! Lundqvist! A rivalry resumes tonight!
Drew Hallowell

It's not MSG, but Rangerstown. I swear I'm not making that image up.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2 (it's also on MSG if you want to hear Sam Rosen yelp "Great play!" way too many times); Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (5-7-5) at the New York Rangers (9-8-0; SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils hosted Nashville on Sunday night and it was great! Five different Devils scored goals: Jaromir Jagr, Cam Janssen (seriously), Marek Zidlicky (PP), Travis Zajac (finally), and Mattias Tedenby (really). The Devils held Nashville to a small amount of shots on net and those that did happen were all stopped by Martin Brodeur. The only real downside to the game was that the team took six penalties. Other than that, it was a very fun night at the Rock as per my recap.

The Last Rangers Game: While the Devils were routing the Predators, the Rangers were hosting the Florida Panthers. JT Miller got on the board at about halfway through the first period with his first of the season, but Florida fought back with a power play goal from Aleksander Barkov. Brian Campbell made it 2-1 Florida in the second period for a few minutes before Derek Dorsett made it 2-2. The Rangers pulled ahead in the third period with a quick strike from Brad Richards and an insurance goal by Mats Zuccarello on the power play. Insurance would be needed, though. Florida pulled within one with a second goal by Campbell and got a late power play due to Chris Krieder cross-checking Scottie Upshall. The Panthers pulled Tim Thomas but the Rangers held off the 6-on-4 power play to win their third straight 4-3. Here's Bryan Winters' recap over at Blueshirt Banter.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: The Devils were coming off a winless road trip through Canada and actually had no wins at all. The Rangers did have a win but couldn't score a goal to save their lives. At the time (October 19), both teams weren't coming into this rivalry match-up at their best. What the Rock got to see was a very pleasant surprise: the Devils ground out the Rangers in a very low-event game. The Devils didn't need to must up much since they managed to put four goals past Henrik Lundqvist out of twelve shots. Andrei Loktionov scored on a rebound, Adam Henrique scored off the rush, Michael Ryder scored from distance on a power play, and Dainius Zubrus put home another rebound. The Rangers didn't generate much and what little they did was all stopped by Cory Schneider. The Devils' first win of the season came later than anyone would have liked, but no one was complaining about the 4-0 win over Our Hated Rivals. My recap was written while I was cackling with glee into the night. Bryan Winters' recap at Blueshirt Banter just called it a "lifeless" performance for his side.

The Goal: Sharpen up the defense. That seems like a strange goal considering the Devils have limited their opposition in the last three games, especially at even strength. However, the Rangers aren't an awful possession team - they're pretty good per Extra Skater - and their offense has been hot in recent games. The Rangers have scored 13 goals in their last three games, including a 5-1 smacking of the Penguins. There are many stand out players for the team to be concerned with. Carl Hagelin has been back and he's been huge with four goals and three assists in his last five games. Ryan Callahan returned to action last week and just had a three-game point streak worth two goals and two assists snapped against Florida. Brad Richards continues to produce as the team's leading scorer with six goals and nine assists. Derek Stepan has joined him with a three-game point streak, started a game after he got a hat trick. Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard each have eight and seven points, respectively. Even Brian Boyle scored a goal. This isn't a complete list but the point is that the Rangers aren't coming into this game with only one player with more than one goal scored as they were back in October.

Simply, this isn't a squad coming off a bad loss or a group that has been getting by hot goaltending and fortunate puck luck or a bunch of guys that have been mostly demoralized this season. The Rangers are a team that has been moving the puck well enough to score in bunches and from multiple players. The Devils will have to put out their "A" game in the neutral zone as well as in their end to prevent the Rangers from doing as they want. They'll even have to be careful on offense to avoid handing them counter-attacking opportunities as well. If the Devils can slow down the Rangers, then they'll have a chance tonight. If not, we could be rudely reminded that the Rangers are a stronger team than Philly, Toronto, and Nashville.

The Little Winger That Can Wreck You: I especially want to highlight Hagelin because he was a key player that was missing for the Rangers in the last Devils-Rangers game. He's basically Brian Gionta with less offense and skill. He'll fly into the offensive zone on a forecheck, battle hard down low, and rack up points in spite of his smaller stature. He's certainly a pain to play against. He's also strong in terms of possession as he has one of the highest Corsi percentages among Rangers in 5-on-5 play according to Extra Skater. He keeps that puck moving forward. Most of all, he's been on a line with Richards and Callahan. Richards, again, is the team's top scorer and playmaker. Callahan has missed some time due to injury but he's just behind Richards for the team lead in goalscoring with five. That's a power line that only makes Hagelin more of a threat since can either draw attention to free up his linemates or sneak behind the defense as Richards and Callahan control the play. If there's one unit the Devils have to be especially cautious of, then it's this one. But Hagelin may make limiting them a really difficult possibility.

Pairing of Note: Normally, this is where I point out how good Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are. In a way, they are. They do lead the Rangers in average ice time per game. McDonagh is third on the team in scoring with four goals and six assists, so he's an offensive concern as well as a concern for the Devils' offense. However, opposing teams have forced this duo to do more defending than attacking this season. In 5-on-5 play, McDonagh and especially Girardi have suffered in possession according to Extra Skater. The stronger pairing may be Marc Staal and Anton Stralman. As a pairing, they are just behind McDonagh & Girardi in minutes. While they may not face as strong competition, they're really pushing the play forward. Even further than sheltered third pairing of John Moore and Michael Del Zotto. On most other teams, Staal would likely be on the top pairing so he's really killing it on the second pairing while Stralman more than holds his own. So I'm a little more worried about the Devils going against them than the others. Hopefully, the Devils can either make the most of their ice time against the other pairings if they keep moving backwards when Staal and Stralman are out there.

A King Still on His Throne: After two bad games, Martin Biron was waived and then retired to end his career. On Monday, Andrew Gross reported at Ranger Rants that he's been hired by MSG. All's well that ends well. But seriously, Cam Talbot has taken over the #2 spot for the time being by being rather hot in four appearances. He still is behind the man who's been the King of Rangerstown for close to a decade now: Henrik Lundqvist. While the Devils lit him up almost as if they were making an argument against monarchies in general, he's been rather good this season. He's got an excellent penalty killing save percentage of 88.5% and a very good even strength save percentage of 92.3%. I'm sure he remembers what happened on October 19 and I doubt he's going to as easy to beat. Besides, he's got subjects to impress.

Heat Check: In the recap of the Nashville game, I wondered whether Martin Brodeur has been hot. Well, tonight will be a good test for that. Tom Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Peter DeBoer has already named him the starter for this game on Monday. With two straight shutouts and one deflection-goal allowed in the start before those, it's hard to argue against putting him. If he's truly hot, then the Devils should ride that out to great effect. Again, the Rangers have been more productive as of late so they should put up a better effort than his last three opponents. Heat will be checked tonight.

Day to Day: Gulitti also reported that DeBoer said that Patrik Elias and Stephen Gionta are "day-to-day." While it remains to be seen when they come back, it's very good news that Elias could be close to returning. The Devils have done quite well without him in the last three games, though they could absolutely use a boost from one of their best forwards. I'm not as enthused by Gionta's status. Sure, it's good his ankle may be feeling better. But I don't think he was missed all that much in the Nashville game. I thought Jacob Josefson played well, particularly on the penalty kill, in his place. I would like to see him in that spot again tonight.

As for Other Changes...: The Devils didn't have a full practice on Monday so it remains to be seen whether the Devils will make up any other lineup changes. Unless someone's hurt or gets healthy suddenly, I don't think there will be. The team is coming off a 5-0 win where they dominated their opponent. I really don't think DeBoer would make many changes. Whether that's what you want is up to you.

Rangerstown: Seriously. Rangerstown.

Your Take: The Devils and Our Hated Rivals will surely be back at it on the ice. What do you expect to see out of tonight's game? Will the Rangers and their hot offense give the Devils problems their previous three opponents couldn't provide? Can the Devils limit them while responding with enough offense to make Alain Vigneault concerned? Who really needs to have a good game for the Devils tonight for them to win? Will they do it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.