The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Chicago Blackhawks had more possession, more shots on net, and more chances to score. Yet, the New Jersey Devils got an early lead on them, never went behind in the game, and actually got a few bounces going their way. The Devils won, believe it or not, 5-3 in an odd game. My recap of it can be found here.
The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers had another intra-division matchup against the Flyers on Thursday night. It didn't go well. Despite scoring first, the Flyers had the superior finishing (the better chances?) on Henrik Lundqvist and so the Rangers decisively lost 4-1. John Merrigan of Blueshirt Banter has a recap where the first item of business mentioned are the officials.
The Last Devils-Rangers Game: While the Devils didn't fall flat on their faces like they did in prior games, the Rangers built up a 2 goal lead, hung back in the third period, and came out with a win thanks to Henrik Lundqvist and the Devils' unproductive offense. An empty net goal at the last second sealed the 3-1 win for New York. I lamented how the story remained the same for New Jersey; while John Merrigan of Blueshirt Banter praised the team for winning their third game in a row. If you're into this sort of thing, George Ays did the scoring chance analysis, proving that the Rangers won the first two periods, got owned in the third, and noted that Ilya Kovalchuk was, well, not contained. The season series is 0-1-0 for New Jersey.
The Goal: Of course, given the opponent, file this game under "Win by any means necessary." That said, let's not get crazy just after one win in Chicago. The Devils (and the fans) need to accept that the struggles aren't over yet. The team is still winless at home, they were not the better team on Wednesday night, and there are still noticeable issues with puck movement and tactical match-ups among many others. The most important thing they can do tonight is not get too confident and keep those passes simple. The Devils blew a lot of attacking opportunities because a pass through the neutral zone or in the upper end of the other team's zone was blocked, deflected, or just plain missed. Some was just poor execution and others were just bad ideas (e.g. the blind, "throw it into the slot" attempt is usually an easy pick up for the D) Chicago's defense ate that up; and so will New York's if it doesn't improve.
The Rangers are a good team, a better team overall right now based on record, and it's going to take a much better effort by New Jersey to get a result tonight. By all means, I want the Devils to win by any means necessary. Getting that first win at home over a rival would be fantastic. But they need to build on Wednesday's victory, and I believe sharpening up and/or dumbing down their puck movement would be good step for that.
If you're interested in the Rangers' side of this game, then please visit Blueshirt Banter for that. I have additional thoughts on tonight's game after the jump.
Let's start with a wild guess at the lineup. Expect this to be wrong by the start of the game.
The New Jersey Devils should get two injured players back tonight. Martin Brodeur wasn't out for very long, but he did leave the Chicago game with an injury. He took a shot to his right elbow that just stung him and after being checked on it and playing with it for a little bit (a simple covering of the puck), Brodeur couldn't play with the hurt arm. Given how many Devils are on the injured list already, losing Brodeur would have sent Devils fans all around the world into the fetal position. Fortunately, X-rays were negative and it has been determined that it was just a bruise. As well as Johan Hedberg did in relief against an offensive rampage, I think most Devils fans would be pleased to hear that Brodeur says he's "pretty sure" he'll play tonight (via Tom Gulitti).
The second expected Devil to return tonight is Anton Volchenkov. Volchenkov has yet to get started in New Jersey since he accidentally took a shot to the face in the team's second game of the season. Lou Lamoriello told the press on Tuesday and Steve Cangelosi on Wednesday during the first intermission that there's a "good chance" he'll return. I don't think John MacLean will throw Volchenkov into playing big minutes right away, and he really shouldn't. For all intents and purposes, he's still getting into regular season form since he has played so little along with coming back from injury. So don't expect him to play 20+ minutes and take on tough assignments unless he has a really good start. (Aside: Not sure why some think he's the team's top defenseman either, but whatever.) That said, I do think his return is a benefit to the blueline. He adds experience, another physical presence, and now there won't be any need for MacLean give a defenseman less than 2 minutes of ice time like Tyler Eckford's Wednesday night.
And MacLean probably won't even get the chance to do that tonight. Eckford, along with Tim Sestito, was sent down to Albany on Thursday as reported here by Gulitti. This pretty much removes any doubt over whether Volchenkov is playing. The Devils, inexplicably, called up Patrick Davis and Stephen Gionta to replace them. Not sure why they felt they had to call up two forwards, the Devils get a nice break after tonight. Especially two players who do not have the speed, penalty-drawing skills, possession skills, and NHL experience playing with both scrubs and good players in spot duty in New Jersey last season. You know, someone like Vladimir Zharkov. I continue to be baffled over why he keeps getting passed over. Oh well.
The transaction makes me think that another forward will sit for tonight. Otherwise why call up two forwards instead of just one? If I had to guess (and I will), I think it could be Vasyunov. He's done well next to Elias and Kovalchuk and showed some offensive flashes. But that's the problem. He's more of an offensive player and his skills aren't going to help much on a fourth line whose main responsibilities are to "bring energy" and "don't be miserable in defending." Davis and Gionta can do that at least for a game. It's not that Vasyunov is bad, just that's his talents are not a good fit for the line. That may also explain why MacLean gave him little time on Wednesday when he was relegated to the lower lines. Of course, if the Devils want to bring up someone with some versatility to do both, we saw Zharkov do it last season. But for tonight, I think Vasyunov will sit.
Walking back to defensemen in general, I wonder who on the Rangers going to draw the Ilya Kovalchuk straw tonight. Perhaps it was confirmation bias, perhaps it was rather obvious, but I've noticed on this past road trip that other teams have been targeting Kovalchuk relentlessly on defense. No matter where he goes, there's at least one defenseman in his area and usually a second or third player nearby. If you're wondering why Kovalchuk isn't just slicing through the zone and bombing lots of shots on net, then there's your reason. To that end, I'm heartened that he got 2 assists on Wednesday and made some nice reads. If Kovalchuk can help his teammates put up shots and (hopefully) goals, then teams will have to change their plans - opening up more ice for Kovalchuk and therefore give him more chances. Given that tonight's game is in Newark, John MacLean can do more to address this increasingly common defensive strategy. MacLean should take every opportunity to put out match-ups that favor New Jersey, which will not only help out Kovalchuk and his linemates but the other lines as well. Force the Rangers to have their lesser defensive pairings deal with Kovalchuk or another talented forward (e.g. Patrik Elias). Will he maximize this possibility? Let's hope so.
The Rangers team that should be out there tonight is a little different from the one faced at the beginning of the now mercifully over 6 game road trip. After their 3-2 win over Chicago earlier this week, Andrew Gross of the Record feels the team is similar to the 2005-06 team, which he considers praise and I consider funny since they got jumped in the standings by New Jersey on the last game of the season and swept by the Devils in the first round of the playoffs. Snark aside, the 05-06 Rangers were formidable and if Gross, who follows this team, feels they are playing more cohesively, then that's more of a threat tonight than whether Marian Gaborik is in the lineup. Just recall the past road trip: San Jose, Los Angeles, and Chicago all played like cohesive units and they were the better team against New Jersey. Ideally, the Flyers game on Thursday would discombobulate the Rangers enough to make them vulnerable tonight. However, that's highly unlikely given the Rangers' record alone (and given how much has gone wrong in this season for New Jersey).
What I'm getting at is that the Rangers will be a difficult test for the Devils. Beating Our Hated Rivals at home to get that precious first home win of the season would be that much sweeter, though.
Given that the game is a rivalry, the atmosphere at the Rock should be hot tonight; the opposite of Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Tepid Arena. Hopefully if the home crowd comes out and brings the noise that Ranger fans only do when something good happens for their team. Since attendance arguments tend to come up for these kind of games, here's a warning for the dear readers and true believers out there. If you're not at the game, please don't complain about the crowd that you're not a part of. If you are the game like myself, please keep signing/yelling/clapping/etc. for the Devils whether they are winning or losing. If nothing else, the home team needs to know that we are their people, we'll always follow, we're always behind them, and that is something they can count on. I'll try to do so in my usual seat in Section 1, Row 16, Seat 5. If you're going, try to do the same and convince your fellow fan to join in.
In advance of the Gamethread, please discuss tonight's game in the comments to this post. Hopes, fears, desires, and everything in between - all of that goes in the comments too. If you have any news to share, please link to the source. There will be some news updates to keep track for tonight's game during the day, so I'd suggest checking out Rich Chere and Tom Gulitti periodically. If you have any additional points, feel free to make them here. Let's go, Devils.