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Game Preview #23: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers

For the first time this season and the 264th time in NHL regular season history, the Devils are playing Our Hated Rivals: the New York Rangers. Learn more about the opponent and the matchup in this post previewing tonight’s game.

Edmonton Oilers v New York Rangers
Shesterkin carries the Rangers on his back and on Saturday afternoon, he flipped over like a turtle.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

November’s schedule for the New Jersey Devils will end tonight. They will be at the World’s Most Overrated Arena. For the first time this season and the 264th time in NHL regular season history, the Devils are playing Our Hated Rivals: the New York Rangers. There is never a bad time for the Devils to beat the Rangers. Why not do so tonight to end a wildly successful month on a high note? (Aside: Due to scheduling issues, this is up later than usual. My apologies.)

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: TV - MSG, MSGSN, NHLN; Audio - The Devils Hockey Network

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the New York Rangers (SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter)

The Last Devils Game: The New Jersey Devils hosted Washington on Saturday night. The Capitals crushed the Devils in their last home loss prior to Wednesday way back on October 24. Would the Devils get revenge? Yes. But first, they would need to survive. The Caps came out and did something few teams had done to the Devils: control the run of play and dominate the shots. Vitek Vanecek was excellent all night long as he continued to deny the Caps. In response, the Devils finished their opportunities against Charlie Lindgren. The first period yielded a power play goal; Dougie Hamilton took a long shot, Dawson Mercer was stuffed on the rebound, and Nico Hischier put home the rebound from Mercer’s attempt. In the second period, The Big Deal showed yet again why he is called that. Jack Hughes went in, around Lindgren, and put in a puck off the goalie’s skate to make it 2-0. Minutes later, Hughes rocketed a shot off Lindgren’s helmet and into the net for 3-0. In the third period, a 2-on-1 from Erik Haula to Hughes for the finish. Hats rained down from the crowd - which is allowed as per the pre-game announcement of rules at the Rock - and the Devils were in a state of victory. John Carlson did wreck the shutout bid for Vanecek with a PPG in the third period. No matter. It was too little, too late, and then Fabian Zetterlund rocketed a shot past Lindgren to make it 5-1. The Devils held on for the big win over the Caps; won back-to-back games; and enter tonight’s game with two wins. Matt recapped the win here.

The Last Rangers Game: On Saturday afternoon, the Rangers hosted Edmonton. The first two periods went splendidly. Alexis Lafreniere scored in the first period to put the Rangers up early. After two disallowed goals, the Rangers put in two legitimate ones. Chris Kreider and Julien Gauthier scored less than a minute apart to put New York up big 3-0. Up by three with Igor Shesterkin in net against a not-hot Edmonton team at home? Surely, this would be a mortal lock for a win. Then Evan Bouchard scored in the third period. OK, no shutout, but no big deal, right? Then Bouchard scored again. All right, a one-goal lead but Shesterkin in the net and a forward group featuring Art- wait, Dylan Holloway scored his first NHL goal to tie it up? Don’t panic, it’s 3-3. You’re at home. You have Shesterkin. Jack Campbell has been porous. Just relax and do not do anything stupid. Oh no, Lafreniere did something stupid; he removed Tyson Barrie’s helmet. Pray the Edmonton power play does not sc - Leon Draisaitl converted the power play. Right, time for a last minute equalizer. That did not happen. The Rangers blew a three goal lead in the third period at home with Igor Shesterkin in net to lose 4-3 in regulation. A horrible result for the Rangers and a hilarious one for the rest of the world. David Chiesa had this recap of the loss at Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal: Make their depth earn it and do not be scared. The Rangers just gave Anaheim their first regulation win of the season (really) and blew a three-goal lead at home to the Oilers with Shesterkin in net. Any mystique about Our Hated Rivals should be erased given recent history. What is not mystical is their talent up front. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Adam Fox are all real good. Shesterkin is still quite talented. If the Devils want to beat Our Hated Rivals tonight, then it is crucial to do two things. One: Frustrate those top players and force the likes of Barclay Goodrow, Kaapo Kakko, Lafreniere, and Jacob “Elbows” Trouba to step up. It is not that guys like Julien Gauthier cannot chip in, but their results this season have shown it is not consistent - and that is the case for a reason. Two: Just never give up. If Shesterkin can get beaten four times in a period, then there is no reason for the Devils forwards to fear him if they go down in the game. The Devils have been able to light up most goaltenders they have faced this season (exceptions: Kaapo Kahkonen, Matt Murray) including Karel Vejmelka. They can not and should not be extra cautious when firing at Shesterkin. If the Devils can do these two things, then I like their chances to make tonight three wins in a row.

How are the Rangers Doing?: I detest the Rangers. I would love it if the Devils hammered them by at least 5 goals and cause a staff member to just leave hockey entirely and take up a different past time, such as chess. However, I have to put my feelings aside and be somewhat objective. This is a game preview post. The purpose of any game preview is to prepare you, the Person Who Matters, for the game tonight. I will not say I will not throw any digs, but I will be honest about Our Hated Rivals. This way you have an idea of what to expect in tonight’s game even if we all correctly agree that the morally acceptable result tonight is a big Devils win.

That all said, the Rangers are in the mix of teams fighting for second place in the Metropolitan Division. In terms of the standings, they are amid their other hated rivals in the Islanders, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. They have a step (three points) ahead on Washington at least. The Rangers faithful would enjoy a fall from grace by the Devils to open up first place, but they would have to get past other teams to take any kind of advantage. The Rangers’ season is going well in terms of results. It could be a bit better as a 4-4-3 record at MSG is not ideal. At least they are not juicing their record through shootouts as the Rangers have had just one - and lost in it - this season.

In terms of summarizing the Rangers as a team, recent seasons would lead one to think the team is carried by Igor Shesterkin in the crease, Adam Fox on the blueline, Artemi Panarin on offense with plenty of support from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider - the latter especially on power plays. This is not entirely false in 2022-23. However, it is not as dominant as it once was. Shesterkin is still one of the best goalies in the league with a 93.1% save percentage in 5-on-5 play. Alas, replacing Alexander Georgiev with Jaroslav Halak has been a downgrade, and so the Rangers’ team save percentage in 5-on-5 is nowhere near the best in the NHL. The power play is certainly capable of ruining opponents; but with a success rate a bit below the league median at around 21%. It is not the force it was last season. The offense is very much led by Panarin, Zibanejad, Fox, and Krieder. The production from all four has been quite good with Zibanejad, Fox, and Panarin each having 23 points and Kreider having 17. But the support for them beyond Vincent Trocheck is not that impressive. While there is no shame in Krieder scoring 9 goals already, it is far from the pace that got him 52 last season. There is no shame in Panarin having 23 points, but it is also far from the pace that earned him 96 points in 75 games last season. In other words, the 2022-23 Rangers are like the 2021-22 Rangers but not at their high level of quality. And I think that shows with a record with just a +4 goal differential and a barely positive home record of 4-4-3.

That all said, the Rangers can still be said to be (sigh) a good hockey team. They have a strong core, a good amount of results, and plenty of experience that will help them compete and lock down a playoff spot. It would more shocking if they missed out. While not ideal, the Rangers season so far has gone well enough.

The Rangers Offense: As a whole, the Rangers offense is on par with Buffalo in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. They have the same CF/60 rate. The Rangers are a touch better in SF/60, a touch worse in SCF/60, and a bit better in HDCF/60. The latter explains a 2.81 xGF/60 - which is a top ten rate in the NHL - and far better than Buffalo’s 2.69. However, the Sabres have finished more shots with a GF/60 of 2.74, a far cry better than the Rangers’ 2.40 GF/60. The Rangers, as a team, has a shooting percentage of 7.58%, which is in the lower end of the league. Still, based on these figures, the Rangers are close to their up-state counterparts. This is not meant to be an insult. Buffalo can attack and attack quite well.

Also similar to Buffalo, the Rangers’ production is led by a small group. That small group is quite good. Adam Fox is a stalwart defenseman in all three zones and is constantly involved in offensive plays. As a result, he has six goals and 24 points in 22 games. Artemi Panarin may not be filling the scoresheet as often as in past seasons but absolutely no one is going to fault him for five goals and 24 points in 22 games. Mika Zibanejad continues to be a key part of the Rangers’ attack even if he does not always get the attention. He has 10 goals and 23 points in 22 games. Kreider may be better about running goalies these days. He may not get 50 goals ever again but he has 10 now with 18 points in 22 games. These four are quite productive. The main difference with Buffalo’s core is that New York’s does not have much of a future to grow as all four of them are 24 and (much) older.

New York’s depth has some potential in theory but not yet in practice. Kappo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere have done enough to chip in but not enough to really be consistent producers with 8 and 10 points, respectively in 22 games each this season. Filip Chytil is a bit older and has 10 points in 16 games, so he is a bit more of a threat. Other than that, it is a group of mid-20s and late-20s and early-30 year old forwards. Vincent Trocheck is a fine player with 7 goals and 14 points. But the Rangers are expecting quite a bit from the likes of Goodrow, Jimmy Vesey, Gauthier, and Sammy Blais if the younger players are not providing support for the Rangers’ top four producers. It may be a reason why the offense is not as potent.

Variation could also play a role as the Rangers’ power play is also not the force it once was. Their success rate of 21.8% is 18th in the NHL with 16 goals out of 75 opportunities. It could be more successful and perhaps it will be as the season goes on. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers have the third highest xGF/60 rate in man advantage situations this season with 10.06 xGF/60. Alas, they have only put in 11.68% of their shots. Not only is that a low shooting percentage in power play situations; it is why their actual goals for rate is 7.63 per 60 minutes. That suggests their process is quite good. Which I would expect given how Fox, Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider can absolutely control a power play situation and wreck all kinds of defenses. It just has not happened as often. That means fewer goals for a team that can attack pretty well, top-heavy as their production has been this season.

What does this mean for the Devils? As ever, we shall see whether Lindy Ruff can get the pairing of John Marino and Ryan Graves out there often against Panarin’s line. If not and it ends up being Jonas Siegenthaler and Dougie Hamilton, then that is more than fine. It is only a concern if it is Damon Severson and Brendan Smith against that talented line. While the Rangers power play has not been successful, the Devils’ own penalty kill is not so stingy that they can afford to shut them down. We did just see Washington toy with the Devils’ PK on Saturday night and force Vanecek to be great. Better for the Devils to stay out of the box. It will also be key for the forwards to look alive when Fox is out there or even someone like Trouba (watch your heads) and even Braden Schneider (recently scored two goals). Fox is like Rasmus Dahlin, whom the Devils just played, and the Devils should approach him in a similar manner.

The Rangers Defense: The Rangers defense is very good in 5-on-5. Among the best, actually. Just look at Natural Stat Trick. They have a top-five CA/60 rate. They are just outside of the top-five in SA/60. They are just outside of the top-ten in SCA/60 and HDCA/60. The latter two drive an xGA/60 rate of 2.49 for a team that I think can defend better than that suggests. That is still a good expected goals against rate. And as you would expect from a team that starts Igor Shesterkin, their actual goals against rate is a little less than 2.49 at 2.46. This is a team that can at least frustrate a team from taking shots relative to the rest of the league, even if those shots happen to be in the “house” of scoring chances a little more often than they like.

The big minute man on defense is, again, Adam Fox. He averages just under 25 minutes per game. In 5-on-5 hockey, Fox has been excellent as the Rangers have an xGA/60 of just 2.25 when he is on the ice. That is the best among Rangers defensemen and an excellent sign of his talent. Again, he is playing more than anyone else on the team. He is drawing the tough assignments and is more at risk of a shift going bad given how much he plays. No, he handles it all incredibly well.

The blueline is more than just Fox. K’Andre Miller has emerged as a reliable defensive player for the Rangers. His ice time has grown to around 22 minutes per game and his own 5-on-5 stats are quite good. Ryan Lindgren has done quite well in more of a depth role. The young Braden Schneider has been very good in his limited minutes along with the recently returned Libor Hajek. This is a solid group to support Fox. The only real weakness are when Jacob Trouba and Zac Jones takes shifts. The team’s xGA/60 jumps to around 2.8 per 60, which is an auspicious increase compared to the other defensemen. In Trouba’s case, his on-ice GA/60 is nearly 3.5 - which shows he at least has been present for plenty of times the defense got beat for a score. I can understand why Trouba is seen as the weak link on this blueline. Which is unfortunate for the Rangers as Trouba is the team’s captain as well as signed for four seasons with an $8 million cap hit. Fortunately for the Rangers, Fox, Miller, and the rest can lift up Trouba’s declining game.

While the Rangers can lock it down in 5-on-5, or at least do so better than most of the league, what about the penalty kill? The Rangers have been successful there too. They are just behind the Devils in terms of success rate at 81.8% - which is the eighth best in the NHL. The Rangers have killed 54 out of 66 shorthanded situations. The 66 shorthanded situations alone is impressive as it means the Rangers have taken an average of just three opportunities per game this season. Only five teams have lower rate of shorthanded situations per game. Their process is quite good too. While it is outside of the top-ten in the NHL, it is not by much with an xGA/60 of 7.31. The Rangers have been quite good at limiting scoring chances in shorthanded situations. Their goaltending has been a bit above league median, which points to the fact that their penalty kill could be even more successful. It is another sign that the Rangers are very good at defending.

This can be seen in two ways. One is that this is one of the better defenses the Devils have faced this season. Toronto and Calgary arguably have better 5-on-5 against rates. San Jose, Detroit and the Islanders have had more successful penalty kills. This could be a real challenge for the Devils. As great as Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and Tomas Tatar has been, the Rangers have the personnel to make the game difficult in their end of the rink. With the spotty-ish performances from the third and fourth line (why else would Ruff make changes in game if they were all good), the Rangers could do to the Devils what they want to do to them. As successful as the power play has been, they could keep the Devils from converting too.

The other way is that the Rangers have not seen an attack like the Devils’ all season. The Devils can and have and could flood opponents with shots. They can and will force turnovers in all three zones. They can and will counter-attack or go in transition real fast. They can and will be patient as needed when in the Rangers’ end of the rink. No one has really stopped Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, and so forth for an entire game. Unless the goaltender is prepared to have an awesome night, the pucks are going to be coming one way or another. The Rangers have a goalie that can - but as recent events have shown, is not perfect.

The Rangers Goaltending: Igor Shesterkin is seen as one of the best goaltenders in the world. Right now, though, he is not even the best Russian goaltender in the tri-state area. Granted, that is more of a complement to how amazing Ilya Sorokin has been for the Isles. For the Rangers, Shesterkin really is not the issue. Which is odd as the team’s save percentages in 5-on-5 (91.12%, 24th in the NHL) and shorthanded situations (86.36%, 15th in the NHL) are not signs of strength for a Rangers team seen as contenders due to their goaltending.

Shesterkin certainly is not the issue when you see he has a 92.7% save percentage in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. Perhaps in shorthanded situations, he could be much better given his 84.8% save percentage. However, even that is not completely awful or unsalvageable. The issue is with the #2 goaltender. Alexandar Georgiev was moved. Veteran Jaroslav Halak has been brought in to be the backup. While Halak has a 90.9% in shorthanded situations, he has an abysmal 86.5% save percentage in 5-on-5 hockey. Halak has been kept to just six games but that is not something that inspires confidence. If Shesterkin hits a slump or has an injury, then they are stuck unless Halak gets a whole lot better in future performances.

This is moot for this game. I would be shocked if Shesterkin is not starting this one. I would also be shocked if Shesterkin is not going to play like he has a point to prove. He conceded four goals in one period to blow a three goal lead to Edmonton on Saturday. While that was not entirely his fault, he does bear some of the blame. I would think he wants to get past that. The Devils should just test him anyway. If he shows signs of cracking, then the Devils know exactly what they need to do to break him. Something they have done to so many goalies this season.

Any Devils-Specific Notes: In the Capitals game, Nathan Bastian left the game early with an apparent shoulder injury. The Devils also demoted Tyler Wotherspoon to Utica on Sunday. Earlier today, the Devils made some call-ups for both to fill out their roster. Alexander Holtz, Kevin Bahl, and, surprisingly, Nico Daws are now with New Jersey.

Daws was called up as a precautionary measure. Per Amanda Stein, Akira Schmid is not feeling well. Also per Stein, he is not at the morning skate. If Schmid cannot back up tonight, then Daws will do so. This seems to also confirm that Vitek Vanecek will start this game. Which he should on the back of his awesome performances for the Devils in November.

With Bastian out for an unknown amount of time, it is not a surprise to see Holtz and Bahl back with the Devils. Both were scratched for so long that the Devils wanted them to get some games in with Utica in case they were needed. Now one of them is. My guess is that Holtz will play tonight. I do not see the Devils going with eleven forwards and seven defensemen given how successful they have been at rolling four lines throughout the last five weeks. Holtz can slide in at wing one of the three forward lines and Fabian Zetterlund can fill in Bastian’s spot for the time being. Zetterlund may be shorter than Bastian but few are stronger than the Swole Swede and he knows how to play “energetic” hockey as well as playing off the likes of Hischier or Tatar. I would not be surprised if Holtz gets some power play time as his shot is worth a look in a man advantage situation and his style fits a power play a lot better than two to three-fifths of the Devils’ second unit.

As for the remainder of the lineup, I would expect the status quo that beat Buffalo, put five on Washington, and have crushed most of their opponents in their wins. I would love to see how Jack Hughes follows up his first ever hat trick. A second one would be the best case scenario, but I know that is like asking for a double rainbow. It can be done but it is rare.

One Last Thought: A win tonight would not just end the most successful Devils month that I can remember seeing in my life, but it would also end with bragging rights until December 12 when the two teams meet again at the World’s Most Overrated Arena. Like the majority of the People Who Matter, I hate Our Hated Rivals and will always want the Devils to crush them. But wins are wins by any means and I will accept them regardless of the means.

Your Take: The New Jersey Devils play Our Hated Rivals tonight. What are you expecting from each team? Who among Our Hated Rivals worries you the most? Will the Devils beat Our Hated Rivals to end November at 13-1-0? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s game (e.g. lineup announcements, injuries, etc.) in the comments. Thank you for reading and I apologize for the late posting.