Game 58 Preview: New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers

"Start against the Rangers? No problem. Just another day in the office, stopping all kinds of shots, making it look easy..." (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Time: 7:00 PM EST

The Broadcast: TV - MSG+(HD); Radio - 660 AM WFAN

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (23-30-4) vs. the New York Rangers (31-24-4)

The Last Devils Game: The Devils started each period against the Carolina Hurricanes really well on Wednesday.  Then the Canes got back into the mix as time went on.  However, the Devils' strong starts led to 3 goals and Johan Hedberg was great everywhere else.  The Canes only got one back and added a consolation goal with just under 5 seconds in regulation.  The Devils won 3-2.  My recap of the win, which extended the Devils' winning streak to 5 games, is right here.

The Last Rangers Game: The New York Rangers looked to build on Sunday's win when they took on the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night at MSG.   The third period was of particular excitement as the Rangers broke a 1-1 tie, proceeded to allow an equalizer to LA, put up a third goal on a tip-in by Artem Anisimov with less than 5 minutes left, and then gave up a second equalizer to Dustin Brown a minute after that. The game remained tied at 3 and a shootout was necessary to decide the winner. The Rangers won 2-1 in the shootout to earn a 4-3 victory and their second straight win.  Nick Montemagno has this recap of what is Lundqvist's 200th career victory at Blueshirt Banter.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: Back on February 3, the Devils went into Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers.  Most of the first 40 minutes were all New Jersey, as three goals was enough for John Tortorella to yank Henrik Lundqvist.  However, the Rangers got a late one in the second period; and they really owned the third period. The home team picked up a 5-on-3 power play goal in the third period and had all kinds of momentum thanks to 4 minor penalties by the Devils.  New Jersey literally escaped New York with the win as Brandon Dubinsky hit the post in the final second of the game to end it 3-2 for the Devils.  The win propelled the Devils out of 30th in the NHL, though I had plenty of criticism in my recap.  Over on the other side, John Merrigan has this recap at Blueshirt Banter.

The Goal:  Skate like it was the first 7 minutes of any of the three periods against Carolina.  The Devils were coming off a four-day break between games and they used their energy well. For one reason or another, that subsided and that's a shame because they could have really pinned the Canes back longer. I want them to use their energy to an advantage tonight.  The Rangers are coming off a 65 minute performance against LA, so they won't be well rested for tonight's game. Plus, the Devils will have the home crowd to lift their spirits in this rivalry game.  It's a prime situation to really expose the Rangers' fatigue.  I think it'll do them well should they want to win this evening.

I have a few more thoughts on tonight's game after the jump. For Rangers coverage, please check out Blueshirt Banter.

The New Jersey Devils will have a couple of changes to their lineup this evening. First and foremost, Anton Volchenkov will be back on the blueline.  His suspension has been served and not a moment too soon.  Mark Fraser was benched for most of the third period after making an error in the last two games. This meant big minutes for Andy Greene and Henrik Tallinder.  With Volchenkov back in the fold, those guys won't necessarily have to play 24-26 minutes tonight.  Volchenkov is a far better defender than Fraser and a better hitter to boot. Plus, it gives them another defending option on the penalty kill, which should also spell Greene and Tallinder.

Since I brought up the PK, I'd like to digress a little bit.  As a quick reminder, penalties in the third period alone very nearly gave the game back to the Rangers in their last game against NY.  The Devils skaters need to be mindful of their stickwork and their tempers.  Yes, the opponents are Our Hated Rivals.  However, losing your cool and jumping on, say, Sean Avery in front of a ref is a dumb idea. Hooking a guy across his midsection is stupid.  Tripping a player with a lazy play is moronic.  I'm sure there will be some big hits, and maybe even some fisticuffs.  That's to be expected.  However, that doesn't excuse infractions.  I hope Jacques Lemaire will make that point clear.

Back to the roster changes. With Volchenkov available, it's going to be interesting to see how the pairings work out. Anssi Salmela actually has been playing a lot better in recent games.  As a result, I'm not really worried about a Salmela-Greene pairing tonight, something Tom Gulitti saw in Thursday's practice.   That's saying something as that pairing got beat on in the last game against the Rangers.  Volchenkov will be paired with Tallinder, and Colin White will go with Mark Fayne.

The other notable change to the roster will be a lack of Tim Sestito.  As reported on Thursday by Gulitti, Sestito was put on waivers on Thursday, while Jay Leach was sent down and Jacob Josefson was called up. Thankfully, Josefson will not play tonight (read this post if you want to know why it's a bad idea for him to get games) and Gulitti confirmed that Adam Mair will take his spot on the fourth line tonight. If he is not claimed, Sestito will clear waivers at noon on Friday. Keep your eyes open on whether that happens.  I think Mair for Sestito is more of a lateral move rather than an improvement.  Mair's not going to contribute a whole lot. Then again, it's the fourth line. If they don't get destroyed and pinned back repeatedly, then it's not a bad night for them.

The lines you should hope does well are the top two lines. Ilya Kovalchuk remains on fire with an 8-game point streak, putting up 6 goals and 4 assists in that streak.  The second line of Brian Rolston, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus have cooled off in terms of Corsi, but they have remained somewhat productive, making the big difference against Carolina on Wednesday night.   I expect the Rangers to focus their top defenders on Kovalchuk, so it would be fantastic if the Elias line can get the better of the second pairing.

As far as goaltending is concerned, no one should be surprised that Johan Hedberg is starting tonight for New Jersey.   Martin Brodeur did practice on Thursday, but as Gulitti reported, the earliest he will get back into net is Saturday (I have my doubts, but we'll see).   I have no problem with this because the Moose is on fire.  Since coming in relief in the Montreal game last week, Hedberg has allowed only 7 goals on 128 shots.   I think he'll be fine this evening.

Moving onto tonight's opponents, Our Hated Rivals.  They should feel confident with two wins in a row.  When they lost to the Devils back on February 3rd, it was then their third straight loss. They proceeded to lose their next three games (links go to recaps at Blueshirt Banter): 2-0 at Montreal, 3-2 at Detroit, and 3-2 at Atlanta.   One of the big issues for the Rangers was their lack of power play success (or, at times, competency).  Devils fans can sympathize.  The Rangers broke this losing streak with a 5-2 win over Pittsburgh that featured - guess what - power play goals. Three of them, to be precise. In case you needed another reason to hope that the Devils to avoid going to the box several times.

Thankfully, the Rangers' power play hasn't caught fire since their win over Pittsburgh.  Against Los Angeles, the Rangers went 0-for-4 with only 5 registered shots on the power play; 3 of those 5 shots came on a 4-on-3 situation per the game's event summary.   Incidentally, the Rangers' penalty kill, which is in the top 10 in success rate, did get beaten on the Kings' first power play; though they killed the rest of their opportunities. 

While their power play sputters, the Rangers aren't lacking up front. Brandon Dubinsky has been productive as late with four game point streak of his own - 2 goals and 2 assists. Marian Gaborik has a four game point streak as well, consisting of 1 goal and 4 assists. What's notable is the goal, which came against Los Angeles.  It was his first since January 24.  Surely, the lamplighter along with the point streak will get some of the criticism off his back.   Ryan Callahan has only points in the last two games, but he had a big game against Pittsburgh with 2 goals and an assist and registered a goal and an assist against the Kings.  He could be catching fire for all we know. 

Based on the lines that Andrew Gross (a beat reporter for the Rangers employed by the Bergen Record, works with Gulitti) posted at Rangers Rants before the Kings game, the top line of Dubinsky, Gaborik, and Vinny Prospal may command the most attention.  I'd also keep that second line with Callahan in mind.  Brian Boyle is big - and a bit cold, 1 goal off 19 shots in last 5 games - and Wojtek Wolski has returned from injury; but Callahan could really drive that unit tonight.  I'd also keep it in mind to see if the Elias line will be matched against them.  Winning that one could be very useful in tonight's game in terms of establishing the run of play.

The Devils could very well see Lundqvist in net tonight. While he did go through 65 minutes and a shootout, he only faced 28 shots last night against the Kings.  That's not a rather heavy workload.  Though, if Tortorella feels differently and would like to save him for Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon, then the Devils will see Martin Biron in net.  I don't expect that to happen since it's a rivalry game and Lundqvist didn't get shelled last night.  This would probably mean three starts in four days for Lundqvist, but given that the Rangers need points to keep their spot, they can't take tonight's game or Sunday's game lightly enough unless they have full confidence in Biron.

Hopefully, the Devils will have their hustle belts on and their skating legs underneath them so they can keep swarming whoever is in net.  It's an schedule-based advantage that the Devils have tonight and I hope they take it to knock Our Hated Rivals down a peg. 

I'll be there live to see whether the Devils can beat Our Hated Rivals in my usual seat in Section 1.  How do you like New Jersey's chances tonight? Do you think the Devils can catch a tired Rangers team, or do you think that won't matter so much? How confident are you in the Devils avoiding costly penalties this evening?  What Devil do you think will go on to have a good game aside from the on-fire Kovalchuk?   Please feel free to give your answers and discuss tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils.

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