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Game Preview #61: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

The New Jersey Devils will take on Our Hated Rivals for the final time this season. This game preview highlights the stakes of this game, who's not playing for both teams, who to watch for, and more.

More of this, please.
More of this, please.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

For the last time this season, Our Hated Rivals are involved. Good riddance.

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

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

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (29-24-7) vs. the New York Rangers (34-19-6; SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils went into Washington D.C. and you know what? The end of this game was sad and unhappy. I'm not going to rehash the entire game.  The Devils went up 3-2 with nine minutes left in regulation and ended up losing in regulation 3-4. Here's my recap if you want the full details.

The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers hosted Detroit on Sunday.  Do you like goaltending battles?  Because this one featured Jimmy Howard and Henrik Lundqvist doing it all.  Stopping all the shots.  Making all the saves.  Leaving their respective opposing team skaters wondering, "How? Why? Sigh."  There were no goals in regulation.  However, there would be one in overtime.  And it would be for the home team Rangers.  After Lundqvist was left on his bottom after a dangerous sequence by Detroit, Kevin Hayes led a 2-on-1 counter-attack with Kevin Klein. Hayes got the puck across to a wide-open Klein, and he finished the play. The Rangers won 1-0 in OT to maintain their hold on second place in the Metropolitan.  Bryan Winters has this recap of the Rangers' win.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: The Devils visited the Arena of Their First Win This Season back on February 8 to play Our Hated Rivals.  It was full of shots, mostly by the Rangers.  The Rangers out-shot the Devils 17-9 in the first period. Cory Schneider was absolutely on form to prevent the game from getting out of hand early.  Unfortunately, a goal would come for the home team early in the second.  Mats Zuccarello drew the defense and had an open Kevin Klein waiting for a shot. Pass, one-timer, 0-1.  The Devils would out-shoot the Rangers 13-12 in the second, but the score remained 0-1.  It became 0-2 early in the third when J.T. Miller snuck one through Schneider from some distance.  It appeared the score would hold as the Devils couldn't really solve Henrik Lundqvist.  When Andy Greene took a hooking call at 17:21, it looked like the game was set.  Then Keith Yandle got blocked at the line, Adam Henrique led a 2-on-1 with Travis Zajac, and Zajac went backdoor on Lundqvist for the shorty.  The Devils killed the penalty and proceeded to place a crazy amount of pressure on the Rangers.  Lundqvist was asked to be great in the final minute.  Unfortunately, he answered yes and there would be no dramatic equalizer.  The Devils lost 1-2.  As I was out, there's no recap here so here's Bryan Winters' recap at Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal: Seeing that the Devils' defensive coverage was spotty in D.C. and they conceded 37 shots to the Rangers in their last meeting, the goal is clear: maintain your defensive assignments.  Too many players just lost their men on Saturday night whether it was to focus on the puck or somebody else.  Schneider and the squad paid the price for that multiple times.  And if the gameplan is going to rely on Schneider denying a ton of shots early in the game again, there's a chance that despite Schneider's best efforts, the deluge may not end with a zero on the scoreboard.  It's important that the Devils' defensemen and forwards communicate to each other as to who has who, when they need help, and recognize when to move to a different position and when get away.  Hint: it's not when the other team has the puck and is looking to make a pass.  If the Devils can be stinger on defense tonight, then they got a better chance of coming away with points than if they try to do what they have been doing on last Saturday night or back on February 8.

The Stakes: While I'm now more than ever a non-believer in a playoff spot for this team, I would absolutely love a Devils win tonight.  This is very much a rivalry game and it's always good to beat a rival even if the season is going to end up ending in early April.  As it stands, the Devils are 2-1-0 against the Rangers.  In contrast, the Rangers are 1-1-1.  By points, the Devils are up 4-3.  This will be the last time these two teams will face each other. A Devils win ensures the season series.  That may end up being a consolation prize, but it's a good one to have.  Especially when the playoff previews come, I can sit there and state, "Playoff run? They couldn't beat the Devils in a season series." as I enjoy the Islanders knocking them off in 6.

Of course, a Rangers regulation win means they take it and that would be bad.  An OT/SO loss to Our Hated Rivals would mean the series is even since both teams would have earned five points from the games.

Not Yet: Mike Cammalleri will not be playing tonight.  Tom Gulitti confirmed at Fire & Ice yesterday that Cammalleri will be held out tonight and playing at all this week is in doubt. For someone who doesn't need surgery, the fact that he's close to being out for two months makes me really concerned as to what he's afflicted with.  It's definitely not helping an already offensive-talent-starved Devils team.  I'm not saying everything would be amazing if he were back but it would be a lot better for many involved.  Alas, that's not going to happen just yet.

Let's Do Better: In the Capitals game, I really liked how the Zajac line performed.  I want to see that continue, especially in what I saw from Kyle Palmieri.  Without Cammalleri, he's definitely one of the few who has to pick up the offensive slack.  He's done that to a degree in the last two games, I want to see him keep it up.  In contrast, the Henrique line was rather poor.  I'd like to that line have a better night. I (and certainly some scouts from other teams) want to see more from Lee Stempniak.  I want to see Adam Henrique contribute more for the twenty minutes that he's likely going to play.  I want to see Joseph Blandisi handle the puck better and make better decisions with it.  He's been too careless, too reckless in the last few games; he really does need to settle down a bit.

As for the defense, well, everyone could do better from the last game.  If I have to suffer witness Seth Helgeson playing again, then I want to see him at least not cough up pucks and get lost in his own end.  Likewise, I want Jon Merrill to lead that pairing instead of just going with it out there.   Of course, I'd rather see Helgeson sit for Damon Severson. But what do I know more than John Hynes about playing your best six defenseman for a rivalry game that sure would be a good time to end a currently three game losing streak?

Who's Not on the Other Side: Andrew Gross, Tom Gulitti's colleague at The Bergen Record, reported on Monday at Rangers Rants that defenseman Ryan McDonagh will not play tonight. He's doing better since getting elbowed in the jaw in their recent win over Toronto. He does plan on joining the Rangers for their upcoming road trip so he may not be out for long. That's good news, I don't think many people really want to see someone out hurt like that.  That being said, McDonagh's absence is something the Devils should take full advantage.  McDonagh averages more minutes than any Rangers skater, he's their second most productive defenseman with seven goals, nineteen assists, and 92 shots on net, and he takes a lot of tough competition while dragging Dan Girardi around.   Needless to say, he's more than just a guy on the blueline for New York.

What has their blueline looked like?  According Left Wing Lock's information from the Rangers' most recent game, Girardi has been riding along with Keith Yandle; Marc Staal has been paired with Kevin Klein; and Dylan McIlrath has been with Dan Boyle.  That third pairing is certainly a fun one: a rather inexperienced defenseman known for his toughness is with a 39-year old Boyle.  I'd like to see New Jersey pick on that.  I'd like to see the Devils just go after Girardi over and over and over and over and over.  If he's having the rare good night, then fine, lay up a bit.  If he's not, then they need to exploit him as he's McDonagh-less.  Yandle is definitely a pretty good defender, but he's not the regular security blanket for the The $5.5 Million Man.

Who to Be Careful of Among the Rangers Who Will Play: Henrik Lundqvist is always a challenge. With a 94% even strength save percentage, he's a rather difficult challenge. Curiously, he's been far more vulnerable on the power play with an 83.7% save percentage in PK situations.  The Devils would be wise to maintain possession - I know, easier said than done - to draw an extra call or two because that could be the way dethrone this false king tonight.   Lundqvist is coming off a shutout in a dual regulation shutout effort on Sunday.  We know Cory Schneider is amazing - and he's unsurprisingly starting this game, per Gulitti - so there could be another goalie duel.  It'll be on the Devils skaters to try and ruin that.

Speaking of the skaters, they'll have to pay attention to plenty of players.  Perhaps not Rick Nash as he wasn't at practice along with McDonagh per Justin Tasch on Twitter (I saw it through Left Wing Lock).  He also didn't play on Sunday.  One less crease crashing big man to deal with isn't a bad thing.  Yet, there's a bigger threat in J.T. Miller.  Miller has been hot this month with four goals and five assists in ten February games. Three of those four goals came against the Devils.  Per Left Wing Lock, Miller has been with Derick Brassard and Jesper Fast.  Brassard, who is the team's second leading scorer, will find Miller the puck as needed and the young forward can certainly finish it. Assuming Brassard doesn't finish the play himself, which he can certainly do.  Should the Devils truly re-focus on defense tonight, paying plenty of attention to what those two are doing would be a good first step.

What makes that unit difficult to deal with is that there's another line that carries a serious threat.  Their leading scorer is Zuccarello and he's been skating with their Travis Zajac, Derek Stepan, and a man with plenty of offensive talent and very little sense, Chris Kreider.  Schneider will have to be concerned with Kreider alone since he occasionally loses his ability to stop whenever he skates towards a goalie's crease.  More seriously, Zuccarello, Stepan, and Kreider all shoot the puck quite a bit - with varying success as they have have 20, 13, and 11 goals respectively. It is quick trio that definitely knows how to move the puck around efficiently as well as counter-attack should the Devils concede the puck in a bad spot on offense.  As hot as Miller has been this month, this would be their top line and that's definitely a concern.  Especially if Yandle is with them as he'll just keep distributing and bombing pucks from the back while Girardi does...something.

Your Take: Digs aside, this is a rivalry game and the last one for this season between these two.  I don't have to tell you how I feel about the opposition.  I hope the Devils do it right and don't let the Rock down tonight.  What do you think will happen? Who concerns you the most on the Rangers? Who on the Devils do you think has to have a very good game tonight?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading.