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New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers: Game Preview #79

Tonight the Devils take on the New York Rangers in a rivalry matchup. They will look to get a result against the team that is currently atop the Eastern Conference. This preview will take a look at both teams ahead of tonight's game.

Stefan Matteau looks to take on his father's former team.
Stefan Matteau looks to take on his father's former team.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Just win, please!

The Time: 7:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+2; Radio - 970 AM WNYM

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (32-33-13) at the New York Rangers (49-21-7; SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils enjoyed a 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens last night. As John noted in his recap, the penalty kill, Keith Kinkaid, and the kids came up big for the Devils. Stefan Matteau and Reid Boucher notched their first goals of the season with Jacob Josefson scoring the winner in the shootout. Kinkaid made 31 saves on 33 shots to raise his SV% up to an impressive .920. Scott Gomez recieved an elbowing major and game misconduct for a shot against Alexei Emelin. The Devils ended up allowing just a single goal in about 10 minutes of 4v5 time and killed off a brief 3v5 and 3v4. They were out-shot 33-18 and out-attempted at even strength 33-30.

The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-2 on Thursday. Bryan Winters has a recap over at Blueshirt Banter. Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, and JT Miller scored for the Rangers while Ryan McDonagh had 2 assists. Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek had the goals for the Wild. Henrik Lundqvist started and made 26 saves on 28 shots to pick up the win. Depsite shots being fairly even, the Rangers were out-attempted at even strength 40-28.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: It feels like these teams haven't played each other in forever. They first met on October 21 with the rangers getting a 4-3 overtime result over the Devils. The last meeting was on December 27, just after Peter DeBoer was fired. The Rangers won that game 3-1 thanks to a hat trick by Derek Stepan. John appropriately titled his recap, "New Coaches, Same Story" which you can read here. Steve Bernier had the lone Devils goal with Eric Gelinas and Tuomo Ruutu picking up the assists. Cory Schneider made 25 saves on 27 shots. Dainius Zubrus played over 18 minutes that night while Peter Harrold had more than 22 minutes. Tim Sestito even made an appearance. If you've forgotten about this game, I don't blame you.

The Goal: Don't get embarrassed. No one likes to lose. No one likes to lose a rivalry game even if it doesn't have an impact on the standings. All I ask from the Devils tonight is to play smart hockey and don't put the whole burden on Cory Schneider. Make simple, safe zone exits and entries. Pass to the open man instead of trying to force it through traffic. Keep your cool and avoid taking foolish penalties. If they can keep it simple they can make it competitive.

The Rangers Forwards: As you can see from the Rangers player usage chart on War-On-Ice, the top 6 this season has consisted of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Martin St. Louis, and Chris Kreider. St. Louis actually just returned from injury on Thursday. Nash, Brassard, and Zuccarello has been a trio for a large portion of the Rangers season. They get favorable zone starts, go up against tough competition, and have done well both in terms of possession and in production. Stepan and Kreider have usually been paired with St. Louis but in his abscence, JT Miller has stepped up in that role. Miller has a goal and 2 assists over his last 4 games and has also held his own from a possession standpoint. This is a line that can fly and the Devils defense will have to be aware, especially on the counter, so they don't get burned. Carl Hagelin and Kevin Hayes have enjoyed playing well together this year while Jesper Fast and Dominic Moore have been solid role players, often being dragged down by the likes of Tanner Glass this season. Tonight should be a good test of the Devils young defense.

The Rangers Defense: Here is the player usage chart for the Rangers defensemen. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been the constant top pair for the Rangers, taking on the toughest competition with the toughest zone starts. Marc Staal had been anchoring the second pair with Kevin Klein until Klein was injured. Recently Dan Boyle has been playing with Staal. New Ranger, Keith Yandle has been paired with Matt Hunwick who has been having a fine season as a third pairing defensemen. It seems the Rangers have settled on these pairs for the time being as assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson had been rotating Yandle in with a number of guys after he was acquired. One thing to look for is that if the Rangers need more offense as the game goes on, Yandle and Boyle could be paired up.

Goaltender Controversy?: Ok, there really isn't a controversy. If Henrik Lundqvist is healthy, he will start. But it's worth pointing out that Cam Talbot did an admirable job filling in while Lundqvist was injured and could be an option for the Rangers tonight. Talbot put up a .926 SV%, 5 Shutouts, 17 Quality Starts, and a 12.17 Goals Saved Above Average in 35 games for the Rangers this season. Lundqvist has a .922 SV%, 5 Shutouts, 26 Quality Starts, and a 8.80 Goals Saved Above Average after 42 games played. According to War-On-Ice, Talbot has the edge in Adjusted SV% (.930 to .922) and an edge in High-Danger SV% (.858 to .831). To point out the obvious, this doesn't bode well for a Devils team that struggles to score. The good news is that anything can happen within a single game and when your team has Cory Schneider in net, then you almost always have a chance to walk away with at least a point.

Youth Contributing: As John mentioned in last night's game recap, both Stefan Matteau and Reid Boucher enjoyed strong games. Both players scored due to smart positioning and were actively involved in the game. Unfortunately for Boucher, he only saw 11:02 in ice time due to Scott Gomez's ejection and all penalty killing the Devils had to do. He did manage 3 shots in that time. Matteau played as advertised by throwing his body around, battling for loose pucks, and showing that he is capable of playing at this level. He finished with 2 shots in 12:56. Hopefully both guys get a chance to play tonight and build off of their performances last night.

Gomez to Play?: Late last night, Tom Gulitti reported that Scott Gomez is unlikely to face further discipline for his elbow on Alexei Emelin.

Schneider to Start: The Devils wisely rested Cory Schneider last night so he would be fresh for tonight's rivalry game. We all know that Schneider has been amazing but I love to point out his very strong numbers anyway. He's 4th in SV% (.927), 4th in 5v5 SV% (.937), 4th in War-On-Ice's High-Danger SV% (.857), and 2nd in their Adjusted SV% (.935). According to Hockey-Reference, his 42 Quality Starts rank 3rd in the league while his Goals Saved Above Average of 24.71 is 2nd best.

Your Take: What are your expectations for this game? What potential matchups do you find intriguing for this contest? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!