The New Jersey Devils are on a four game winless streak heading into Madison Square Garden. The first two losses came on a back-to-back last week at Boston and at Philadelphia, where special teams were a main feature in both losses. Particularly on the penalty kill. Then the Devils got a few days off, got some rest, and went through another back-to-back, first at Chicago followed by hosting Carolina. In those last two games, the Devils didn't look bad, but mistakes and an inability to finish after initially scoring cost them the game.
Yeah, this is a slump for New Jersey. And with a game against Our Hated Rivals not to mention the playoffs looming in the distance, it's definitely not the right time for a slump!
In some favor for the Devils, the Rangers head into this one with two straight losses: one to Atlanta and one to Pittsburgh. In both games, the Rangers displayed poor discipline both physically and in their overall game. The Blueshirts coughing up a three goal lead against Atlanta and not being able to use momentum to complete a comeback against Pittsburgh. The Rangers could really end up with a losing streak at a terrible time for them! The sentiment at Blueshirt Banter is definitely worried!
So both teams would really like a win, and not just to get out of their own recent funks or for the rivalry alone. The Rangers need the points to help ensure a playoff spot. Needless to say, Montreal, Florida, and Buffalo fans will be cheering for the Devils in this one. The Devils need the points to stay ahead of Philadelphia, who lost to Boston on Sunday.
The Devils are at full strength, and I don't anticpate any changes to the lineup. Expect Martin Brodeur in net, expect Zach Parise and Patrik Elias to get fired up for this game among others, and hope the defense can handle the Rangers' offense. Yes, they are averaging 2.45 goals per game; but they put 32.2 shots on net on average. Given that Brodeur has seen 90 shots in his last two games, the defense needs to do a better job in clogging those shooting lanes. Unless the Blueshirts plan to shoot right at Brodeur - laughable, but not entirely impossible - the Devils' blueline could give Brodeur a hand.
The Rangers are short Paul Mara and Michael Rozsival on defense, and so Corey Potter has been called up from Hartford according to Andrew Gross. While the Rangers have found the ability to score some goals as of late, they've been conceding quite a few as well. While that the Rangers' defense isn't at full strength and still features Wade Redden, they've held their last two opponents to 30 and 28 shots respectively. Basically, it's the goaltending and the quality of shots allowed that have hurt the Rangers.
What that tells me, and hopefully the Devils' coaches, is that this is a vulnerable team. Rather than looking to set up a "great" shot, the Devils may want to settle for "good" shots and see how those bounce. If the Devils can get to those pucks first or some of these shots catch Henrik Lundqvist off guard, then it'll be a great sign that the night could go New Jersey's way. I'd like to see the offense be simpler against the Rangers. Of course, the Devils still have to finish those chances; but the first step is to create them. Just as importantly, the Devils have to keep it up for all 60 minutes - letting up in, say, the third period is just asking for the Rangers to get back in it. The idea should be to put this game out of New York's reach instead of holding onto leads - something that burned them last night.
Moreover, if the Devils can capitalize on the Rangers' on-ice errors and draw a few calls, that will help too. Though, they should be careful that they won't being goaded into anything by certain malcontents who may or may not matter. That includes you, Mr. Bobby Holik.
The Devils have an interesting situation here: they could concieveably break their slump by putting the Rangers into a slump. Wouldn't that be nice? That's only a wish at this point. And it's not necessary. I just want the Devils to get a win. I don't care if it's 3-0, 4-2, or 8-5. It can be 1-0 in a shootout for all I care.
I want a result, the Devils players want a result, and the organization wants a result. It'll be up to Brent Sutter and the coaching staff along with every one in a Devils sweater to make it happen. Let's make it happen, New Jersey.