The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (52-22-8 in regular season) versus the New York Rangers (47-22-13 in regular season), Devils lead series 3-2
The Time: 8:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: TV - ABC, ESPN+, SN360, TVAS2
The Series Preview
For a more thorough look at the matchup, see John’s series preview.
There are no reported injuries for either team coming into tonight’s game. There were some concerns about Damon Severson’s health for the Devils going into game 5, but he was merely taking a maintenence day, and played and looked good. I am personally surprised that there haven’t been any injuries, even concerns regarding injuries, in what is generally a pretty fierce rivalry. But I guess that isn’t the game of this iteration of the Devils (as we saw confirmed in games 1 and 2 where their gritty play backfired tremendously) while the Rangers have lacked any sort of intensity or desire basically since game 2 but especially in games 4 and 5.
The Devils only held a optional skate yesterday, with the only Devil who has been in the lineup for the last three games exercising the option being Curtis Lazar (who, in fairness, only played 4:55 in game 5, so it isn’t like he is fully in Lindy Ruff’s good books):
On the ice for the optional:— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) April 28, 2023
L. Hughes, Smith, Wood, Sharangovich, Lazar, Vanecek and Blackwood. https://t.co/rx2dtWdz8r
I would not expect any changes for tonight. Go with what has won you three straight games.
In contrast, as you would imagine for a team on the brink, all the Rangers were out there yesterday, with coach Gallant changing up the lines, looking for something, a spark:
#NYR lines at practice today:— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) April 28, 2023
These were pretty interesting moves to me, with Kane and Tarasenko switching spots and Lafreniere taking Panarin’s spot in the top six. I interpret this latter move less as a demotion for Panarin — although who could argue it isn’t deserved? — but more as a search for depth in the lineup, akin to how the Devils have Timo Meier on the third line to great effect (in the run of play, not on the scoreboard quite yet).
Across the five games in the series so far, the following are the 5-on-5 numbers for the four forward-lines that have combined for more than 10 minutes of ice-time:
Given that the Devils have only scored two 5-on-5 goals in the series, I think the expected goals numbers are more representative than actual goals. We can see that the only line doing well for the Rangers is the top-line of Kreider-Zibanejad-Kane. The “kid-line” (jeez I hate that nickname) are a shade below even, but you can see that their rate of xG per 60, both for and against, is much higher than the other lines, which I would say favours the Devils as it suggests a much faster-paced game. The Panarin-Trocheck-Tarasenko line has been dreadful, and the Vesey-Goodrow-Motte line — which alone remains intact for game 6 — is a fourth line and has showed it.
I was slightly surprised, seeing these numbers, that Gallant has decided to split up the Zibanejad line. In game 5 they had a 57.3% xG for percentage. The kid-line, too, were surprisingly good at 64.8%. The point, I think, of the shuffling is either to get Panarin going (the Panarin-Trocheck-Tarasenko line had 28.7% of expected goals at 5-on-5 in game 5, which is just woeful), to load up Tarasenko and Kreider, or simply just to somehow find a way to spark the team.
With these new line combinations, Gallant has combined Trocheck and Krieder, in my opinion the Rangers’ best to forwards in the series. That line will be a massive massive threat, so it will be on Nico Hischier and his linemates — Tatar and Bratt, recently — to nullify this threat. Interestingly, even in the dominant game 5 win, the captain’s line was below 50% in xG% and corsi for, playing mostly against Zibanejad. Indeed, throughout the series, Hischier’s three most common opponents, by time on ice, at 5-on-5, of forwards are Zibanejad, Kreider and Kane, Kane with 26:19 of intersecting TOI, the next highest being Trocheck with 18:48. Of course, Gallant controls the matchups, so he may elect to get this unit away from Nico, but the point is that whoever on the Devils are up against this line has to play very very well. Get through it unscaved and the Devils have a great chance of victory.
The Lafreniere-Trocheck-Kane line does not fill me with the same amount of fear. I can’t really see who is going to be putting the puck in the net there, short of Patrick Kane rolling back the years. From the Rangers’ persepctive, I do like the initiative of Gallant putting Panarin with Chytil and Kakko, both of whom I have been more impressed by in the series than Lafreniere. I see this line as more of a threat than the Trocheck line.
Whatever happens, this is certainly a new look that we have not seen, again, with the Rangers having rolled four identical lines exclusively thus far in the series. Whether this provides the spark Gallant is looking for, or if instead the star-studded Rangers forward group remains stale and impotent, will be a large determining factor in tonight’s ellimination game.
Get it Done Tonight
Immediately after the Devils had trounced the Rangers 4-0 in game 5 at the rock, Ondrej Palat spoke to the team about the difficulty of closing out a series, with the fourth win being the hardest.
Nico Hischier said that Ondrej Palat talked post-game about how it can be to close our a series with that 4th win but they have to keep playing as they have.— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) April 28, 2023
Stick with it the same as they have.
I personally like the Devils’ chances if they play as well as they did in game 5, which should make whatever the Rangers put together irrelevant. That being said, I do not want to face the prospect of a game seven loss to the Rangers, so get it done tonight. Please.
What are our thoughts and expectations for tonight’s game? Potentially the last in this thrilling first-round series? What do you make of the Rangers’ line shuffling? I think it was largely necessary from Gallant, and I can understand the rationale behind the moves. But it may backfire if they fail to find chemistry and the Devils get out to an early lead. We shall see, but how do you think it will play out? Most importantly, will the Devils get it done tonight, or are we heading back to the Rock for a deciding game seven? Let me know in the comments, and thank you for reading and supporting the site!