The Time: 1:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM &101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: On Friday night, the Devils hosted San Jose. The Sharks were one of the hottest teams in the NHL to start this season and Patrick Marleau burned the Devils early with a quick goal in the slot. The Sharks piled the pucks on Cory Schneider, but the rest of the shots were stopped in the first. The Devils looked second-rate. As the game went on, New Jersey began to attack more. San Jose didn't really stop - they still out-shot the Devils in the second period 13 to 12 - but at least the Devils tried to get one past Martin Jones. They would on a power play within the final five minutes of regulation when Adam Henrique re-directed a Damon Severson shot. It was an equalizer out of nowhere, a surprise given how many power plays the Devils squandered earlier that period (three). Still, the Devils forced overtime and came very close to stealing the second point. Alas, the Sharks took the shootout to make it a 1-2 loss. Given that I expected a beat down, I called it a moral victory in my recap.
The Last Rangers Game: Back on Thursday, the Rangers headed into Montreal. It was very much a foul-filled game with five power plays between both teams within the first two periods. Of course, there no calls whatsoever in the third. The Rangers may have hung with the Canadiens on the shot count, but the difference makers were in the net. Carey Price stopped everything. Henrik Lundqvist got beat by Tomas Fleischmann shortside on a decently long rebound in the second period and by Dale Weise on a low, stoppable shot late in the third. Tomas Plekanec put home an empty netter to send the Rangers back to Rangerstown with a 0-3 loss. Bryan Winters had this recap of it at Blueshirt Banter.
The Goal: Try to make the most out of possession. It's only five games into the season, but even the Rangers' score-adjusted Corsi at even strength is 46.1% according to War on Ice. It's definitely one of the lower ones in the league and it suggests some issues of conceding attempts. Of course, that's driven by their first three wins. But even when losing to Winnipeg and Montreal, they didn't exactly take a massive majority of attempts. The Devils are one of the few teams worse than the Rangers in this regard. But if they want to put up a competitive effort this afternoon and maybe get one over a hated rival, then they'll need to find ways to establish possession better than them. This means making passes count, not dumping pucks away needlessly, and not hesitating when shooting lanes appear. The Rangers have the talent, the fire power, and the emotion - it is a rivalry game - to really make the game ugly. The Devils can stem some of that by forcing them to play some more defense than they'd like.
If Zajac Returns...: In yesterday's practice, Travis Zajac appeared and went through it. It is possible he plays today, according to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. In that same post, Tuomo Ruutu was held out of practice so it is likely he does not. Should that hold true, then the following lines that Gulitti reported may be in place for New Jersey:
Forwards: Mike Cammalleri-Adam Henrique-Lee Stempniak; Jiri Tlusty-Travis Zajac-Kyle Palmieri; Brian ONeill-Jacob Josefson-Jordin Tootoo; Reid Boucher-Stephen Gionta/Sergey Kalinin-Stefan Matteau.
I can get behind that top six. Adam Henrique had an awesome game in between Lee Stempniak and Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri was much better on Friday than he was on Tuesday and Stempniak hustled to make sure he wouldn't be out of place. I am more than fine with giving them another game as they were the team's best unit against San Jose. I like seeing Zajac in between Jiri Tlusty and Kyle Palmieri. The wingers didn't do all that well at evens against the Sharks and I think it's fair to say that Zajac is a massive upgrade over Jacob Josefson. So this will give the wingers another chance to perform across from each other with a better center. Plus, I'd like to see how Zajac does away from Cammalleri. Given what the Devils have, this is a perfectly acceptable top two lines.
The bottom six, well, that's going to be a big issue. Especially considering the opponent. I liked how Ruutu and Reid Boucher played, so I'm sorry to see Ruutu may be unavailable and I'm not sure how Boucher will fit on that fourth line. I think Brian O'Neill switches with him fairly early today. Still, this is close to the best of what the Devils can do at the moment up front.
Return Eric: Based on that same practice report from Tom Gulitti, Eric Gelinas appears to be the scratched defenseman again. I'm glad Damon Severson isn't losing his spot. But given that the defense just conceded 34 shots, I'm surprised head coach John Hynes doesn't want to make even a little change. Yes, I know it was San Jose and they've dropped bucketloads of pucks on all their opponents so far in this young season. Yet, I'm not sure who looks at this defense and says, "Yeah, this is OK. Don't change it." While Eric Gelinas has his own defensive misgivings, he could be useful in limited spots and his shot would give the power play an additional weapon. David Schlemko may be a popular choice to sit, I'd still suggest that Jon Merrill take a seat since he hasn't done a whole lot good except for one game. Or, again, since O'Neill/Sergey Kalinin/Stefan Matteau have done so little, then maybe this would be a good time to play all seven defensemen. It doesn't look like I'll get either, though.
Reminder: Don't dump the dang puck in on a power play. Especially if it's a 5-on-3.
Wait...Is Alain Vigneault Getting Smarter?: In recent Rangers season, despite their top lines and solid third line, you could still count on lineups that still had Ryan McDonagh chained to Dan Girardi or Tanner Glass playing at all. However, it may appear that the head coach has figured out that those have not been ideal moves. Check out these lines of Our Hated Rivals from Bryan Winters at Blueshirt Banter. Glass isn't guaranteed a lineup spot. Girardi is with Keith Yandle while McDonagh is paired with Kevin Klein. I only see two real oddities are Emerson Etem, whom they traded a useful, top-nine winger in Carl Hagelin for in the summer, is not in the lineup, and Jesper Fast in the top six. Fast's presence should remind you that the team didn't replace Martin St. Louis. OK, Martin St. Louis may have shown he's past it, but he still received a lot of minutes in the 2014-15 season. Still, the top six has more than enough firepower to allow Fast to be whatever he is there. The bottom six is dangerous without Etem. Provided that Alain Vigneault doesn't revert back to more damaging lineup decisions this season, this could play a minor role in the Rangers' attempt to raise another Metropolitan Division banner this season.
That Third Line: The Rangers boast the trucking power and hard shots from Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. The Rangers boast two do-a-lot-of-things-well centers in Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. Mats Zuccarello, who's fortunate to be playing at all, is a diminutive yet fearless scoring winger. McDonagh, Yandle, and Dan Boyle can bring varying amount of offense from the back. Yet, among all of them, I'm more currently worried about their third line.
That line would be Oscar Lindberg, J.T. Miller, and Kevin Hayes. It's a line of young forwards since all three are 23 or younger. It's the sort of line that fans point to and think, "Hey, let the kids play and they can succeed like these three." That leaves out the fact that all three have played well and played well together to earn that right to play. To start this season, they've been very hot. Lindberg has four goals already. Miller has four assists too. Hayes has a goal and two assists. When you produce on the scoresheet and on the ice with good plays, then you'll get to stick around and stick around together. Granted, the production won't necessarily last. Lindberg's four goals came on nine shots. Three of Miller's four assists came on those four goals and Miller himself only has five shots on net. And those three have been pointless in the Rangers' recent losses. Still, these three represent the future of the Rangers' forwards core and they've been recently bright.
For today, they can easily create match-up problems. They can definitely pick on the Devils' softer bottom two lines. Or they can give grief to one of the top six which will allow one of the Rangers' top line to go after the bottom six. Even if they don't score, if they can keep a shift in New Jersey's end or prevent them from doing much to allow others to get forward against weaker competition, then that's a good shift for them. That will help their cause to stay together and that makes the Rangers a potentially difficult team to play against.
Attack These D: While it's a smart move for Vigneault to keep a great defenseman like McDonagh away from a great anchor like Girardi, the Devils would be wise to pick on certain halves of these defensive pairings. Girardi is a wildcard of a defender. He'll look just fine one night and absolutely miserable the next. He's the weaker of the two between him and Yandle, so he should be targeted. McDonagh is a very smart defender and while I don't think Kevin Klein is bad, he's no McDonagh. He should be targeted. Dan Boyle is 39 and has been declining. He should be targeted. I know it's not possible or even desirable to only focus on one side, but if there's something to expose about the Rangers, then this is it.
A Sterling Goalie Matchup: It should be Schneider versus Lundqvist. I was hoping the Rangers would save Lundqvist for their Monday game against San Jose, but hey, they want to go with him on consecutive nights, I'm sure he'll be fine. If there's a game to give to Antti Raanta, then surely it'd be a low-scoring Devils squad to start a team's back-to-back.
One Final Thought: Kreider is quite familiar with goalie contact. Thanks to the r/hockey sub-reddit, here is a link to proof that goalie contact is becoming familiar to Kreider.
Your Take: What do you expect to happen this afternoon at the World's Most Overrated Arena? Will the Devils somehow put together a winning effort? Or would this be another game to just hope isn't a dumpster fire of a game? Who do you want to see have a good game for the Devils? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.