There will be a new coach in this old rivalry.
The Time: 7:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 660 AM & 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Christmas Eve's Eve, the Devils hosted Carolina. The game was evenish in the first period, though Stephen Gionta provided a break through when he took a shot from distance that hit off Michal Jordan and the deflected puck fooled Anton Khudobin. The second period proceeded to be like the last Devils-Canes game where Carolina did what they wanted, threw a lot of pucks on net, and Cory Schneider had to be great to stop them all. That lasted throughout the second period and for the first half of the third. The Canes would get an equalizer when a shot re-directed off Ron Hainsey's shin pad to beat Schneider. The Devils would put up a fight later in the period but they couldn't get a second goal. Overtime was frantic, as the Devils were giving up huge opportunities for Carolina but Schneider ensured there must be a shootout. In the shootout, the Devils did not score, Chris Terry did for Carolina, and so New Jersey lost an ugly game 1-2 via a shootout. Here's my recap of a performance akin to a lump of coal.
The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers hosted Washington on Tuesday night as the hottest team in hockey. They remained the hottest team in hockey. Rick Nash kicked things off early when a Mats Zuccarello one-timer inadvertently struck Nash's shin pad and got past Braden Holtby. The Rangers doubled their lead early in the second period with a power play conversion on a sharp-angled one-timer from Martin St. Louis. About five minutes into the third, New York made it 3-0 when Rick Nash picked up a loose puck, charged in, and beat Holtby stick-side to the right post. But shortly thereafter, the Caps get on the board when Evgeny Kuznetsov beats Henrik Lundqvist five-hole. Later in the period, the Caps made it a one-shot game after Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play. Yes, he scored where you think he would. However, Washington would put themselves in a position to lose. Nicklas Backstrom took a double-minor for high-sticking and on the ensuing faceoff, Jason Chimera got caught with a handpass off the faceoff. Two in the box for the Caps and the Rangers made it count. Nash hammered a one-timer off the left post. Martin St. Louis looked to have tipped the rebound in and got initial credit for the goal, but further replay showed Holtby putting it behind him by his glove. So Nash did get a hat trick in the Rangers' seventh straight win, 4-2. Here's Bryan Winters' recap at Blueshirt Banter.
The Last Devils-Rangers Game: On October 22, the Devils hosted the Rangers for the first time this season in front of a not-even-close-to-a-sell-out crowd. Namely because the Devils jacked up prices way too high for what should be the easiest to sell game on the schedule. In any case, the visitors struck first when Chris Kreider jumped on a rebound to convert a power play. The Devils responded later in the first when Jaromir Jagr put in a missed shot by Damien Brunner to convert a power play of their own. In the second period, Adam Henrique made the difference on another power play when he beat Lundqvist short-side. Jon Merrill got the third period off on the right foot when a PPG from distance. Alas, things would fall apart. Chris Mueller would convert another power play - five total conversions tonight - with a one-timer set up by Ryan McDonagh. Later in the third, Marek Zidlicky attempted a no-look backhand pass in his own end of the rink. It went right to Kevin Hayes (not Krieder as I thought) and Rick Nash piled in the resulting rebound. The Devils brought everything to Lundqvist but he would not budge, so overtime was necessary. Overtime would not last as Dainius Zubrus was caught puck-watching, allowing Kevin Klein to step into space, fire a shot that Schneider wished he had another chance at it, and disgust the Devils fans at the Rock. The Devils lost 3-4 in OT in what I called an embarrassment from the players on the ice to the salespeople in the organization. Over at Blueshirt Banter, Joe Fortunato was more jubilant.
The Goal: Simplify everything. From the passes to the breakouts to the coverages to the formations. The Devils will have a brand new coach behind the bench tonight and so I don't have very high expectations for the night. Given how much I've complained, stated, whined, moaned, groaned, lamented, and written about how the Devils have been so bad at putting passes together and moving the puck through the three zones with control, I think this is a good time as any to demand simplification. Having players not be overly complex, given too detailed instructions, or getting fancy with the puck would not be to the new coach's or the team's benefit. It may not lead to a win tonight against the hottest team in the league, but it'll give the new coach an idea of what he has to work with and where to start.
9.5%: The Rangers are the league's hottest team right now with seven straight wins. Given the state of the Devils, I can forgive those who have already penciled in an eighth. How are they doing it? In my view, their sticks are hot.
9.5% is the Rangers' even strength shooting percentage, the highest in the NHL according to War on Ice. (The Devils are at 6.7% by comparison.) It's not that the Rangers have been creaming opposing teams by possession or smothering them knowing that their goaltenders will stop them all. The Rangers are just below break-even in terms of possession. Lundqvist and Cam Talbot have been fine but not out-of-this-world amazing in net. For quite some time, the Rangers have been firing them in at a relatively good rate and they're relatively on fire now. That's why a playoff-capable team is playing like a proper contender. I think it will fade in time, but with games in hand and a roster that's legitimately talented, they'll still likely make the postseason. For tonight, they are more dangerous than usual. That's what shooting at 9.5% will get you.
Diesel: Rick Nash is a dream player for many in hockey management given his large size, his speed, his tendency to combine both to make opposing players feel the pain, and his strong shot that makes opposing teams feel the pain on the scoreboard. He lucked his way into a hat trick on December 23, which gives him 23 goals for the season- the second most in the NHL. Nash is clearly the biggest threat on the Rangers for that alone. Here are some other facts that justify additional notice. He leads the Rangers with 116 shots; the second leading shooter is Martin St. Louis (a threat on his own) with only 65 shots. Nash leads the team with 36 points, which is nine more than second place Derick Brassard. Nash plays in all situations and he's the only Ranger with goals at even strength (17), power play (3), and shorthanded (3) goals. His shooting percentage of 19.8% is second only to the surprising Kevin Klein (7 goals on 32 shots, or 21.9%). Who knows how long he'll be able to keep this up, but for now, Nash is playing like Al Trautwig is going to tout his #61 to be retired (assuming he hasn't already).
Per Left Wing Lock, Nash was with Brassard and Mats Zuccarello (formerly Mats Zuccarello-Aasen). Both are good players and have supported Nash well. As the Devils are on the road, they may not get the match-up they want but it'll be on the new boss behind the bench to watch for that unit and any other Nash is on.
The Other Threats: Martin St. Louis is like Jaromir Jagr in that he's old but still commands a lot of respect. He's got 11 goals and 13 assists in case you feel otherwise. He was recently on the wing of Derek Stepan and opposite Chris Kreider. Stepan is an excellent center and has been quite productive, nearly at a point-per-game pace despite missing part of this season. Kreider is unafraid to shoot and use his big body to crash into forwards. In the bottom six, Carl Hagelin and his speed can create a concern on his own. He's been with J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes as a younger unit. They'll keep things interesting when the Stepan and Brassard lines are sitting.
On defense, the Rangers have somewhat enjoyed the return of Ryan McDonagh. The bad: he's rocking a 48.3% Corsi, largely because he's continuing to drag Dan Girardi on the ice. The good: he's very adept in his own end, he can handle himself against tough competition, and when he does get forward, he's very good on the puck offensively. His return has meant easier minutes for Marc Staal, which deepens the blueline. Dan Boyle hasn't provided much in the way of points - he got his first assist in the last game, 20 games into the season - but he has been playing a lot in softer situations. It would be wise for the Devils to attack his pairing with Matt Hunwick just like it would be wise to attack their bottom six as they're not as strong as their top two lines. We'll see if they get that far, though.
Mumped: Mumps and mumps-related testing has hit both teams. For the Rangers, Lee Stempniak was diagnosed with the mumps prior to the win over Washington. He was skating according to Andrew Gross of Rangers Rants, so he could be available tonight. As for the Devils, Patrik Elias was diagnosed with the mumps while Martin Havlat just has a virus at the end of this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Both are not available for tonight, so the new coach won't get a full roster of forwards to work with in his first game.
More Surprises: With a new coach not even yet announced for the Devils, who knows what the lines and pairings will be for the Devils. I'd like to think Cory Schneider will face off against Henrik Lundqvist, as they are each team's respective starters. I would think Alain Vigenault won't make many changes to a roster that won their last seven. Hence, I've been leaning on Left Wing Lock for that. But even if the interim coach is someone we all know, it doesn't guarantee how players will be used. So of all games this season, I wouldn't sweat what the combinations of players will be all that much. It's not even a guarantee they'll last within the game.
That Being Said: I'm going to cackle with glee if the Devils get a point out of Rangerstown. Even with Sam Rosen's incessant proclamations of "great play!" anytime a Ranger so much breathes successfully out of their nose. Seriously, I highly recommend MSG+2 for watching this game.
Your Take: The Devils will have a brand new coach and a very tough first game. Again, a hated rival, in their crummy and overrated building, and they won their last seven in a row. My expectations aren't high despite how I despise the opponent. What do you think will happen? What are your expectations? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.