The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (22-35-5) versus the New York Rangers (40-18-5). SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter
The Time: 7:00
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+
The New Jersey Devils were relatively quiet at the trade deadline this season, holding onto all expiring contracts and only acquiring Andrew Hammond from the Canadiens for Nate Schnarr. While I wish I had gotten to see Schnarr get a chance for the Devils at some point this season, I'm happy to have a new goaltender. Unfortunately, due to his ankle injury, it could be a few games before we actually get to see him in a Devils uniform. I'd expect Nico Daws to start tonight with Jon Gillies backing up.
The New York Rangers, meanwhile, may have had the most active - and possibly best - trade deadline. They managed not to overpay and addressed a slew of needs to round out their skater group. They acquired Tyler Motte for a 2023 fourth rounder, Andrew Copp and a 2023 sixth rounder for Morgan Barron and three picks (two conditional seconds, one fifth rounder), Justin Braun for a 2023 third rounder, and Nick Merkley for Anthony Bitteto. Both their forward and defensive depth has been solidified for the playoffs, and I think Chris Drury was smart to cast a wide net rather than acquire a single big-time player. The Rangers struggle with shot and expected goal disparities, and none of the players they acquired are anchors - I expect the Rangers to be tougher to play against for the rest of the season.
While the Devils were not very active on Deadline Day, Amanda Stein did share news of all the players returning to full-time practice. Miles Wood and Tyce Thompson are out of no-contact jerseys, and Janne Kuokkanen is practicing on the third line with Pavel Zacha still out due to injury and Jimmy Vesey out due to an illness.
Here’s how the #NJDevils are lining up at practice today… with a lot of extra bodies!— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) March 21, 2022
Felt good to write a couple of those names I haven’t in a while!
Wood and Thompson haven’t taken any line rushes during the 5-on-5 practice, Kuokkanen has pic.twitter.com/Q3QiPwwpLZ
I think it's amazing how much better these lines look with Wood and Thompson there, and also with Christian Jaros not being the right-handed defensive extra. When Pavel Zacha returns, I'd expect Mason Geertsen to be sent down and for our lineup to finally look like it was supposed to going into this season (with the exception of the goalies). I guess you take any positive you get late in a bad season like this, so I will be paying attention to how they perform against playoff-hunt teams at full strength.
As for tonight, I am a bit wary of the third line. I don't know how well Janne Kuokkanen will play in his return, and his play was not exactly too hot before he was out for the wrist injury. Jesper Boqvist has been above expectations as a third line center so far, but we'll see how he plays with Kuokkanen replacing Vesey. When Kuokkanen was at his best, I think he was good at playing a hard-forechecking and possessive offensive style on the boards. He may have gotten a bit away from that this season, but if he brings that tonight he could be a welcome addition to Boqvist's line.
We will see later how the Rangers incorporate their new players into the lineup tonight (and if all of them play). With Johnsson on the Hischier line instead of Zacha, it may not be as good a shutdown line - but they're still the best bet to shut down Artemi Panarin. But with the Rangers lineup suddenly much deeper, I would play both of the top two lines over 20 minutes. The Rangers top six with Panarin, Kreider, and Zibanejad might not be the only group that can consistently score, so the Devils' best need to be out there more if they want to win.
What do you think about tonight's game? What did you think of the Devils compared to the Rangers' deals on Trade Deadline Day? How do you feel about Miles Wood and Tyce Thompson gearing up for a return? If this team is fully healthy for the last 15 or so games, what do you think their record will be? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.