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

It’s a Saturday, it’s a game day, and it’s a rivalry game. What more is there to say? Who cares how the team is doing today, just win.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Devils are haven’t played a game since their loss to Ottawa at home on Tuesday, and are finally back in action for the 61st game of the year, where will be hosting those hated Rangers at the Rock. Many fans may want the team to tank, but no one wants to lose to New York.

The Time: 5:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV – MSG, MSG+; Radio - WFAN 660 AM and 101.9 FM; ESPN 98.7 FM (Rangers broadcast)

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (25-25-10, 60 points) vs. the New York Rangers (39-19-2, 80 points. SBN: Blueshirt Banter)

The Last Devils Game: On Tuesday, the Devils played host to the Ottawa Senators for the 2nd time in 5 days. Sadly, the second game ended with the same result as the first. Despite the losing result, the Devils did play some quality hockey for large portions of the game. According to Natural Stat Trick, they ended ahead in possession 65%-35%, which is huge for a very poor possession team in the Devils which has been arguably the worst possession team in hockey over the last couple months. That number also does not tell of the many close calls that the Devils had throughout the game. Despite what seemed to be a very small crowd in my opinion, even considering the fact that it was a midweek game against a non-divisional opponent, there were stretches of time where the place was buzzing with noise due to the grade-A attempts the Devils were producing. The “ooooooh”s from the crowd were coming at a rapid pace as the near misses continued. Alas, while in many games a team’s persistence eventually pays off, for the Devils it did not. Travis Zajac would manage a power play goal in the third thanks to great positioning in front of the net, but that would be the only pay off. A poorly handled last couple minutes led to a final of 1-2 in another Devils loss. Devin had the recap here.

The Last Rangers Game: New York has played more recently, suiting up Thursday in a close game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game would turn out to mostly be a clinic by both goaltenders. Henrik Lundqvist would give up a goal halfway through the first, but other than that was stellar, making 32 saves against a very young and talented Toronto offense. He made 2 brilliant saves in overtime, stopping breakaways from both Auston Matthews and Leo Komarov to force a shootout. Frederik Andersen, who has been extremely shaky and hit or miss recently for the Leafs (I know, he’s on my fantasy team), put together one of his best performances of the season. He stopped 37 in all, 5 of those saves coming in the overtime frame. He arguably had the save of the game too, despite Hank’s great overtime saves, robbing Michael Grabner of a clear open net. Alas, for those of us who root against the menaces from Manhattan, the Rangers would breakthrough in the shootout, felling the Leafs 2-1 for their 79th and 80th points of the season. Blueshirt Banter had recaps here and here, while Pension Plan Puppets discussed the game here.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: Back in December, the Devils went to Madison Square Garden on two consecutive football Sundays, on 12/11 and 12/18. While we never need to discuss the first game ever again, and everyone should have just watched football that day, the second game was a good one. It was a back and forth affair, one again in which the Devils actually managed to come out ahead in possession despite really never having a strong lead, a rarity this season. PA Parenteau would give the Devils a 1-0 lead 5 minutes into the second period, and that was the only scoring through 2. The real fun started around halfway through the third. Chris Kreider tied the game up with a goal on Cory Schneider, but Miles Wood would give NJ the lead fairly quickly thereafter with a nice counter push by the team in red. Sadly, Derek Stepan would tie the game in the closing minutes of the game, bringing about overtime. After no goals in the 3 on 3 session despite some decent opportunities, the shootout ensued. Mats Zuccarello scored right away on Schneider, putting the Devils in a quick hole. Michael Cammalleri would score on the team’s third attempt, creating a fourth round. Kevin Hayes would get one past Schneider in this round, and sadly Damon Severson could not replicate his success. The Devils would fall 2-3, but overall it was a quality performance from a team that was utterly demolished by the Rangers a week earlier. If they can replicate these results tonight, things could go well. John had the recap here, lamenting the continuing of December, which was a joke for all NJD fans.

The Goal: Keep a strong possession game. The Devils had one of the best possession games of the season on Tuesday against Ottawa. The Senators have had bad possession this season, to the tune of a 48.24% Corsi, good for 22nd in the league. They were a team the Devils had a chance to out-possess. Well, despite their strong record, the Rangers have actually been worse than the Sens, with a 47.86% Corsi, good for 24th in the NHL. Of course the Devils are worse than both, but they did play a very quality possession game both in their last game and in their last game against NYR. That is some decent history, and one that gives me some hope that the Devils can at least come out with a 49% Corsi tonight, if not better. If they do, and especially if they are over 51%, I think that at worst we have another close game, if not an outright Devils win.

Who on NJ Can Make That Happen? Ideally, it is another team effort like on Tuesday night. Natural Stat Trick, which I linked above, has some amazing stats. Everyone except PA Parenteau and Pavel Zacha (who only played 5 minutes by the way) were over 57% Corsi. What? That’s what I’m saying anyway. Stefan Noesen led the way with a +18 Corsi, Cammalleri was a +13, Severson a +17, Kyle Quincey a +15, and so on. Even Miles Wood, who for the season has an atrocious 40.77% Corsi, was a +9 with a 68% Corsi, and Devante Smith-Pelly, who is at 41.41% this year, was a +6 with a 62.5% Corsi. Amazing.

Will that happen again? Highly unlikely. A team as bad as New Jersey in possession does not put up those kind of possession numbers over multiple games. If they did, they simply just would not be as bad at possession as they are. But it goes to show what can happen when most of the team can be positive in tilting the ice against the opposition. For tonight, a couple players maintaining their strong possession play on both offense and defense would be clutch. On defense, Severson and Quincey doing some serious work on the back end again would be exceptionally helpful. On offense, the Devils desperately need continued strong play from the top line of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Travis Zajac. In order, they were a +13, +9, and a +13 in possession against Ottawa. If they can maintain that level of dominance tonight, that would be absolutely huge.

Goaltending: Tonight, we shall see the Devils playing their starter against the Rangers’ backup. Schneider comes in with a 19-18-8 record, boasting a .914 save percentage, 22nd in the league amongst goalies with at least 20 games played. Antti Raanta has played in exactly 20 games entering tonight, posting a 11-5-0 record and a .920 save percentage, which is 12th on that same list.

Last time against the Rangers, Schneider was quality, stopping 25 of 27 shots en route to the shootout loss. Of course, he was anything but good the week prior, allowing 5. Raanta played the Devils already this season, in that 5-0 debacle of a game, stopping the 19 measly shots that the Devils managed to throw at him. Hopefully tonight he gets more work.

How Have They Been? The Rangers have had an absolutely sterling month of February. At this point, they are 8-1-1 this month, their only losses being in a shootout to Montreal and in regulation against the Islanders in Brooklyn. Despite this surge, they’ve only managed to jump Columbus and still sit behind both Washington and Pittsburgh in the super competitive top half of the Metropolitan. This means that the Rangers come in red hot to Newark, but have no reason to slow down yet. Watch out.

Who To Look Out For: The top 6 of the Rangers have been logging consistent, solid minutes over the last ten games. The line of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello has been out there for 23.47% of the Rangers’ ice time over the last ten games, while the line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Jimmy Vesey has consumed 21.56% of the Rangers’ ice time.

Between the two, the line I first mentioned has been better in terms of controlling play. Of all players with at least 200 minutes logged this year for New York, those three are basically at the top, with Kreider having the 2nd best Corsi on the team, Zuccarello the 3rd best, and Zibanejad the 4th best. Kreider has especially been a beast with a 54.06% Corsi this year. They will be tough to handle.

The other line I mentioned has not quite had the same possession dominance. Stepan is not bad, posting a perfect 50% Corsi so far this season, but his linemates are dragging him down. Vesey has a rather poor 46.05% Corsi while Nash has actually been worse than that with a 45.79% Corsi. This line in particular needs to be forced into its own end often tonight if the Devils are going to have a real shot.

If You Are Going Tonight: AATJ has been given some intriguing information from MSG that you may be interested in:

“MSG Networks is airing a special edition episode of “The MSG Hockey Show” live from the Goal Bar at the Prudential Center on Saturday, February 25th following the completion of the Devils vs. Rangers game on MSG+. “The MSG Hockey Show” debuted on MSG Networks in November, and features host Will Reeve, NHL veteran Anson Carter, and sports broadcaster and hockey analyst Arda Ocal.

Scheduled to make appearances are MSG Networks analyst and former Devil great Ken Daneyko, New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood and more surprise guests. Fans are encouraged to stick around after the game and head over to the Goal Bar for the show.”

So if anyone is sticking around after the game at the Rock, go and check it out.

Your Take: So whatever you may want to happen with the Devils for the rest of the season, whether to tank or whatever else, I would assume we can all agree that tonight we want a win. It’s a rivalry game, it’s the Rangers, and it’s at home. What are your thoughts about the game tonight? Do you think the Devils have a good shot? What do they need to do to beat New York and send all the Rangers fans at the arena home in silence? Please leave your comments below, and Lets go Devils!