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New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers: Game Preview #6

Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers, come to the Prudential Center to take on the New Jersey Devils. This preview looks at the changes to both teams for this game and what the Devils should try to do to win this rivalry game.

Dainius Zubrus is ready.  Is Matt Hunwick?
Dainius Zubrus is ready. Is Matt Hunwick?
Bruce Bennett

Fans, please let them know what you think of the opposition all night long.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM, 101.9 FM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (3-2-0) vs. the New York Rangers (3-3-0; SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter)

The Last Devils Game: On Saturday night, the Devils opened up the Prudential Center to the 2014-15 regular season with a game against the San Jose Sharks.  The game itself featured a lot of loose pucks and lost control in the neutral zone, but when each side managed to gain control, they found the target quite a bit.  Hence, the shots were high while the attempts were not.  Antti Niemi and Cory Schneider had a lot to do.  The Sharks struck first, second, and third.  Joe Pavelski put home a rebound for a power play goal in the first period; Logan Couture slotted in a shot from the slot for a second power play goal; and Patrick Marleau rifled in a shot that Schneider should have stopped in the third.  However, it was not 2013-14 so the Devils mounted a comeback.  Mike Cammalleri slammed in a one-timer from a 3-on-2 rush. With just under eight minutes, a pass to the middle by Adam Henrique bounced past Niemi's left to make it a one-shot game.  Alas, the Devils could not find an equalizer.  Eric Gelinas misfired on a neutral zone pass to Michael Ryder, leaving the puck to be picked up by Joe Thornton shortly after the extra skater came on.  A sort-of-give-and-go with Thornton and Pavelski ended with Thornton icing the game with an ENG. The Devils lost 2-4; my recap of the game is here.

The Last Rangers Game: Sunday evening saw the Sharks head into Rangerstown for a game against the Rangers.   After a scoreless first period with a combined 12 shots on net, the game picked up in terms of offense as the Rangers out-shot the Sharks 17-15.  More importantly, they out-scored the Sharks 3-0.  Carl Hagelin got his first of the season just past the thirteenth minute.  While the Sharks kept shooting, they got stunned late in the period. Martin St. Louis scored and four seconds later, so did Rick Nash.  Yes, two goals in four seconds in the final minute of the second period.  Remarkable.  And bad for Alex Stalock.  Kevin Hayes scored his first ever NHL goal in the third period to make it a decisive 4-0 win at MSG.  Evan Sporer has this recap of the game at Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal: Clean up the neutral zone.  While the Devils atypically put up over 30 shots on net against San Jose, they had troubles moving cleanly through the zone. When they were able to do so, they got good shots. Both of their goals were created with carries into the opposition's end.  They should strive to do so for their offense.  It will also help them defensively.  By not throwing pucks at teammates' skates or errantly into traffic, that should reduce the opposition's opportunities to attack.  The neutral zone is important and if the Devils want to keep the Rangers below their early-season average of 32.5 shots per game and increase their own, then they need to improve their puck movement there than they did on Saturday night.

Zero Percent: Believe it or not, the Rangers have not scored a power play goal yet this season.  They are tied with three other teams (Minnesota, Winnipeg, Buffalo) with no conversions. Obviously, that will not last all season - even without Dan Boyle.   I doubt a team that boasts Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, and Ryan McDonagh on the man advantage will remain scoreless.  For the Devils to avoid being the first team to give up a PPGA to the Rangers, they can do two things.  First, they need to make a concerted effort to avoid taking a significant a number of penalties. That's been a problem so far in this early season.  It should be a priority for tonight.  Second, they need to communicate better when they do have to kill a penalty.  As much maligned as Bryce Salvador has been, there's been quite a bit of standing about from the players.  It appears to me that for there to be improvement, then it cannot just be hoping Schneider stops everything.  There must be quicker responses when it comes to getting in lanes and pressuring forwards. That requires the PK players to more clearly call out who to pick up and where to go.  That's how I see it.

Larsson Debut: Pleasing those unhappy that Adam Larsson has been scratched for the first give games, Larsson will likely play in tonight's game.  Salvador has been bad but he hasn't been good for the better part of the last two seasons.  He has the 'C,' he's not going to be a healthy scratch.  Eric Gelinas has also not been so good recently.  If The Truth isn't hitting the net and he's getting beat on defense, then why should he remain in the lineup?  Tom Gulitti reported on Monday at Fire & Ice that it appears that Larsson will play with Jon Merrill instead of Gelinas.   Like Damien Brunner on Saturday night, there's a reason to hope that Larsson uses this game to prove a point to the coaches that he belongs every night.

Incidentally, Larsson's debut could mean fewer minutes for, again, the much-maligned captain of the team.  While Larsson doesn't have the offensive skill set to play on the power play, he could handle penalty killing duties.   Before, the team had to rely heavily on Andy Greene and Salvador as the remainder of the blueline was Gelinas (not a PKer), Marek Zidlicky (not a PKer), Jon Merrill (still inexperienced), and Damon Severson (rookie).   The latter two got shorthanded ice time.  Larsson has a little more experience than both and playing back in a 4-on-5 situation won't expose his issues with skating and playing with too much tunnel-vision as much.   This would allow the Devils to use 24-6 less when the Devils to have to kill some penalties.   So look for that tonight in addition to #5 lining up next to #7.

Brunner Still In: Not pleasing those unhappy with the fourth line came word from Monday's practice that Tuomo Ruutu appears to be the odd man out.  Gulitti reported at Fire & Ice that Martin Havlat did practice with a face shield and Damien Brunner took Ruutu's spot in practice on the fourth line.   Should Havlat feel ready to play, that would mean Ruutu is scratched.  The positive is that the coaches liked what Brunner did enough to give him another game. That means he did his job on Saturday.  Look for him to get bumps in ice time when power plays happen.

The negative is that among the trio of Ruutu, Stephen Gionta, and early-team-leader-in-penalties Jordin Tootoo, Ruutu is the one who has to sit.   Tootoo has brought nothing positive to the table this season. While Brunner in a fourth line may stick out like a sore thumb, it's arguably worse that his supporting linemates will be Gionta and Tootoo as opposed to Gionta and Ruutu, who can play above a fourth line role.  In the linked article from Gulitti, Peter DeBoer said he wanted more from the fourth line.  I'm not seeing how keeping Tootoo in for another night will get him more.  Hopefully, that experiment ends soon and doesn't hurt the team tonight.

The One Line to Change Wasn't: Gulitti also noted in practice that Mike Cammalleri was practicing with Havlat and Patrik Elias, while Dainius Zubrus was re-united with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr.   I don't quite get the need for this switch.  The Elias and Zajac lines were doing fine.  Cammalleri is riding a point-streak and both units have been positive in possession.  I don't think either will be particularly bad and I'm not sure what potential match-up has given Peter DeBoer cause to switch wingers.    If there was to be a change among forwards among the top nine, then why not the Adam Henrique line?  While they aren't getting a lot of offensive zone starts, they have been beaten regularly in possession.  Just look at the War On Ice numbers; I would think the "third" line should be the one to be shaken up.   We'll see.  I think Cammalleri will be fine next to Elias and we know Zubrus with Zajac and Jagr can be a beautiful thing to watch in a cycle.    I just don't see why this switch was made as opposed to others.

Your Goalies, Not as Statistically Impressive So Far: Gulitti did also report that the Cory Schneider will start tonight's game. That should be of no surprise. What is of some surprise is that his save percentage so far hasn't been so hot.  While he's made plenty of tough stops, he's let in a share of bad goals and the PK has not helped him.  His 92% save percentage at even strength has been dragged down to 90.8% overall.

It could be worse. He could be Henrik Lundqvist, the likely starter for the Rangers tonight.   He's been a top-level goalie for years.  He just got a shutout against San Jose.  His save percentage is still just barely above 90% at even strength and below it in all situations to an ugly 89.2%. He'll definitely bounce back.  However, his start to the season shows he's not perfect.  The Devils should make him work. With better neutral zone play, the Devils can obtain more

Banged Up Defense: Adding another reason why the Devils should make a point of it to be better in the neutral zone, the Rangers' defense has been damaged in recent games.  Dan Boyle has a broken hand.  Kevin Klein took a puck to the chin and Dan Girardi's lower right leg was gashed from blocking shots.  Andrew Gross, Gulitti's colleague at the Bergen Record, reported at Ranger Rants on Monday that Klein did practice and Girardi did not.  That bodes well for Klein playing tonight but not for Girardi.   Gross confirmed from Alain Vigenault that if Girardi was unable to play, then Michael Kostka would step in - and Ryan McDonagh may switch sides.   Kostka has played in one game and could have been given assists on two goals against in the Isles game last week.  I want the Devils to go after Kostka if he does play as well as Klein.  They will likely make up the depth behind the far-better McDonagh and Marc Staal.

Think of a Train: While the Rangers may also be missing Derek Stepan dearly, they still have some serious threats up front.  Carl Hagelin is really quick off the wing, which makes him a threat on counter-attacks.  Mats Zuccarello is similarly quick and packs some offensive punch of his own.  Derick Brassard is a two-way threat with three goals on 16 shots, so he's been hot to start this season.  Martin St. Louis is like Jagr in that in spite of their advanced ages, they are still very strong and productive.  Younger players like Anthony Duclair and Kevin Hayes are wildcards.

However, the biggest threat for New Jersey is a large winger that goes by the name of Rick Nash.  Whenever he has space to drive in close, he looks like a monster.   His size, strength, and speed resembles a subway train; very difficult to stop.   Even without the space, he's a handful.   As of Monday night, Nash is the league leader in goals with seven and tied for eleventh in the NHL with 22 shots on net.    The pairing of Greene-Severson have taken on some tough competition.  I would expect them to see plenty of #61 alongside Chris Kreider and Hayes based on Left Wing Lock's line combination tool.    It will not be easy, but if the Devils can keep him quiet, then it'll be a big help for tonight' sgame.

Atmosphere: Devils fans,  I want to hear you all for 60 minutes.  Brand-appropriate or not, let the opposition know exactly what you think of them.   It should be an experience.  Devils players, please feed off of it, at least a little bit.

Your Take: What do you make of the lineups for each side?  What do you think will be the key factor for tonight?  Here's what is at stake: A win denies a losing streak for the Devils, points for a hated rival, and the all-important temporary feeling of bragging rights.  Who will get that win tonight?  The good guys or Our Hated Rivals?   Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's big rivalry game in the comments. Thank you for reading.