The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (24-29-8) vs. the New York Rangers (26-26-8)
The Time: 1:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG, MSG+
Is Anyone Actually Playing? If you’re not rooting for the tank, this stretch of the season is a fun time to be a Devils fan as we take on a stretch of struggling teams missing some of their top players. After playing half the Senators team on Thursday, the Devils will take on the Rangers who will presumably also be without three of their big guns—Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Adam McQuaid. McQuaid was pulled from their game against the Wild in anticipation of a trade deal, so its likely the others will be sat for trade precautions as well. Hayes in particular will be a hot commodity over the weekend with the loss of Matt Duchene from the trade market and the consequent skyrocketing of the price for Panarin, so he may be gone from NYC before the Devils even get there. Alongside them in the press box will be centerman Brett Howden, who has been out since January with a knee sprain. The Devils are expected to sit Marcus Johansson and Ben Lovejoy again in anticipation of possible trade deadline deals for them. Also sidelined will be Sami Vatanen (concussion—skating) Stephan Noessen (upper body—skating), Pavel Zacha (upper body—not skating), Taylor Hall (lower body [?]—skating just often enough to rule out theories of alien abduction). Miles Wood, who left Thursday’s game late in the second period and did not practice Friday, is expected to play. For anyone else who had a slight panic when Wood’s failure to return from the locker room for the third period was noticed and immediately started Googling trade rumors— it appears Wood took an awkward cross check to the back from Chabot late in the second period, seemed extremely uncomfortable then immediately skated to the bench and went with trainers down the tunnel. I didn’t expect to ever be happy to find out a player was injured but that is one trade announcement I definitely do not want to see.
On To The Enemy... The Rangers also played Thursday night, on the wrong side of a four goal game against the Minnesota Wild. The Rangers scored once, with a power play goal by Buchnevich, but fell to the Wild 4-1. Defenseman Tony DeAngelo had the primary assist on Buchnevich’s goal, extending his point streak to five games. Jimmy Vesey led the team with five shots after replacing Chris Kreider on the first line halfway through the game. Kreider moved to the second line with Hayes and Buchnevich. AHL call-up Lias Andersson joined the team’s fourth line and posted three shots of his own, replacing a scratched Boo Nieves.
The Rangers may be playing with their offensive lines in preparation for the loss of Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, both of whom have played top six minutes for the Rangers all season. Without them, the top line will likely consist of Zibanejad and Buchnevich, with Vesey possibly edging out Kreider for the left wing spot. Strome and Fast may move up to the second line with Kreider, but at this point everything is up in the air for the Rangers lines.
Skip This Section if you’ve deliberately wiped the last meeting between the Devils and our rival team from your mind. For those who enjoy mental anguish and want a refresher: The score of the game may have been close, but the play definitely was not.
The Devils were absolutely wrecked for the majority of the 5x5 play throughout the game. In particular, in the first period they put up a 15.8 CF% and managed zero even strength scoring chances. They had only 26.6% of the 5x5 scoring chances through the entire game. The power play was actually some of the Devils best play, with Hischier and Johansson both scoring power play goals in the first period. Yakovlev would net his second of the year later in the third period. The Devils penalty kill, which is usually the highlight strength of the game, was possibly the worst its been all season, giving up two goals on four penalties.
A note on the PK for the stats nerds among us: there was a question posed during the Hurricanes gamethread on who’s penalties cost the team the most goals. Presumably, it would be the top penalty kill line who would cost the most goals, and it looks that way to start off—Blake Coleman and Ben Lovejoy share the title for most goals scored against during their penalties this season with four a piece. Coleman, however, is also sharing the title for most penalties on the team with Wood and Severson at 20 each (minors only, as majors are often coincidental). By goals scored against per penalties taken, Lovejoy is up there at 2 for 14. Marcus Johansson is the highest at 2 goals on 4 penalties (Yakovlev is also 1 for 2 but 2 penalties is a tough sample size to judge on). Also above 20% goal-per-penalty are Zajac at 2 for 7, Zacha and Gabriel each at 1 for 4, and interestingly, the bench is a major culprit at 3 for 7. That’s all well and good, but a penalty kill doesn’t mean as much when the game is 8-2 as it does when its 2-2. Looking at just those penalties that led to goals in games that ended up as a loss by 1 goal (or within 2 if the last goal was empty net), Johansson again comes up — of the two goals that were scored during Mojo penalties, both ended up being the difference maker. Of Lovejoy and Coleman’s team leading 4 goals, only one each cost a goal in a close game. Johansson is actually the only player on the team whose penalties have seemingly cost a game by that measure on more than one occasion.
Sharp & Dressed Devils: After sitting out the game against Ottawa for precautionary reasons, Johansson and Lovejoy were both on the ice for the Devils practice Friday morning and are expected to travel with the team to MSG, just not to play. Johansson practiced in Wood’s spot on the second line, as Wood did not participate in practice though he is expected to play. Wood will hopefully return to the lineup riding a three game scoring streak alongside Travis Zajac, who is now just three points away from his 500th career point, and Blake Coleman who’s been quiet on the scoresheet lately but has continued to play some of the best hockey we’ve seen from him. Jesper Bratt has been playing some of his best hockey ever with 11 points in his last 10 games. A number of these points did come in conjunction with Marcus Johansson, whether on the power play or as a line, so it will be worth watching to see if he can stay hot without Johansson’s influence.
Cory Schneider has been playing some of his best goaltending of his career lately, with a .938 save percentage since his return from his conditioning stint in Binghamton and .988 in his last three games. He played Thursday, but with the Devils looking to get some wins under their rookies belts, we may see him in net again on Saturday. John Hynes has not yet confirmed a starter.
Keys to the Win: Shut down Mika Zibanejad. Is that too much to ask? Have Gabriel literally sit on him if we have to, but keeping Zibanejad from another hat trick will go a long way towards a Devils win this time around. After giving up two goals in their last matchup with the Rangers, a return to their usually strong penalty kill play will help. The special teams have seen some shuffling since losing Johansson from the PP and Lovejoy from the PK, so some careful planning will have to go into crafting a couple shorthanded lines that can withstand the Rangers dangerous top line, even without Zuccarello and Hayes.
Both Lundqvist and Georgier are saving about .925 in the teams last ten games, so either goalie will present a tough nut to crack for the Devils offense. Several of the goals against the Rangers in their recent games have come from good lateral puck movement a la Hischer’s style of passing to Palmieri on the PP, or Wood’s tip in off Severson on Thursday. If the Devils can continue to execute those types of plays on Saturday, they stand a good chance at exploiting the weak points in the Rangers goaltending.
Your Take: Do you like the top line of Bratt Hischier and Palmieri, or would someone else be better in one of those slots? Who’s development are you watching in this game? How do you feel about Johansson and Lovejoy sitting on the trade block? Leave your predictions below and thanks for reading!