Our Hated Rivals come to the Rock. If there's any time to snap a winless streak, then tonight really should be the night.
The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+; Radio - 660 AM / 101.9 FM WFAN
The Last Devils Game: The Devils played the fifth game in their woeful road trip in Ottawa on Thursday night. Martin Brodeur let in two soft goals early on from Erik Karlsson and Bobby Ryan, respectively, putting the Devils in deep trouble. The visitors thankfully made an effort to try and make a game of it. However, the hole was dug deeper when Zach Smith lost his mark and Karlsson set him up for a great look on net that he finished. The Devils did benefit from Ottawa's lack of discipline and Travis Zajac converted a 5-on-3 goal early in the third period to at least get the Devils on the board. It became a game when Steve Bernier got a free shot in the slot and sniped one high past Craig Anderson to make it 3-2 with plenty of time left in the third period. Alas, Milan Michalek shot a puck from distance and Brodeur failed to stop the stoppable shot to essentially kill the comeback. The Devils tried for a last miracle but Jason Spezza ended up with a ENG to make it a 5-2 loss. My recap of the team's seventh winless game in a row is here.
The Last Rangers Game: On national TV, the Rangers went into D.C. to play the Washington Capitals. Unlike the big losses they endured against Western Conference teams, the Rangers took it to the Caps early and often. the second period was a real revelation when they put up 21 shots on net (!), allowed only six, John Moore sniped a shot from distance to open the game's scoring, and Ryan Callahan batted in a puck in mid-air to make it 2-0. Henrik Lundqvist resembled himself and stopped all 22 shots by the home team to secure the shutout win. The Rangers break their three game losing streak. Bryan Winters was suitably pleased in his recap at Blueshirt Banter.
The Goal: Stop Brad Richards. The Rangers may have put up a solid performance in 2-0 win in D.C., but they're hurting. Rick Nash is out. Carl Hagelin remains on IR. Their captain Ryan Callahan broke his thumb in Wednesday night's victory and he's out for 3-4 weeks according to this report by Andrew Gross at Rangers Rants. That's a big blow to their offense. As Callahan was one of two Rangers to have more than one goal scored this season with three. In fact, Callahan was one of the only six Rangers skaters to have scored at least one goal this season. The only other man bringing the production has been Brad Richards. He leads the Rangers in goals with four, in points with seven, and in shots with 27. According to Extra Skater, Richards has been one of the few players to drive the play forward in 5-on-5 play - and his current linemate Derrick Brassard is also up there. He does get a lot of offensive zone starts but on a team that's been poor in possession as the Rangers, Richards remains a standout player. I'm not saying that only Richards can threaten the Devils tonight. I'm saying that limiting his impact would go a long way towards getting a badly needed win.
By Any Means: The Devils are winless in seven and all the other 29 teams in the NHL have at least one win. The Rock is going to be packed and mighty angry if things don't go well for an eighth game in a row. I'm not saying that Peter DeBoer's job or the roster is in danger of major changes if there is a loss tonight. And I can agree that not getting mad or freaking out is going to solve the problems. But unlike DeBoer, I believe this is as close to a must-win as it's going to get this early in the season. Getting a win to snap a long winless streak is a big deal on it's own. That deal multiplied by massive factors when the opponent is Our Hated Rivals. A depleted who are missing some key players and who knows whether they can build on their win against the Caps. The home fans want to see something positive after very little last two weeks and a half. An eighth straight winless game is going to please no one who counts and the calls for changes will only grow. Players and coaches, this is the time to step up.
You Wanted Changes, You Got Them: The Devils held an optional skate today, but there will be some changes with the Devils' lineup for this evening. Here's the report from Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice; the big one is the most important one: Cory Schneider will start tonight. Yes, Schneider will start ahead of Martin Brodeur and it's absolutely the right call. Brodeur was awful in Ottawa and he's given up at least one soft goal in the four starts he's been given. While Schneider's numbers don't look much better, he hasn't getting beaten by weak shots. It's not a guarantee that he won't make a mistake or that he'll get a result. But I think he gives the team the best chance to win at this important juncture. Good on DeBoer for making that call.
Gulitti also reported in that same post that Mark Fayne and Jacob Josefson will be in the lineup tonight. Those pleading for Fayne's inclusion should be pleased. If the Vancouver game, Fayne's other appearance this season, is anything to go by, then he'll get significant minutes. Strangely, I hope it's with Bryce Salvador because I would like to see Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky at least start this game together. They were excellent at getting the puck forward in Ottawa. I'm fine with Josefson getting into the lineup to get some minutes too.
What's not so certain is who comes out for both. Gulitti noted that Adam Larsson, Andrei Loktionov, and Rostislav Olesz - who isn't playing - skating hard after the optional and figured they'll be scratched. That's not official but I'd think it's a good guess. I'm not exactly pleased about Larsson sitting as I thought he was OK in Ottawa. I'd rather have Peter Harrold or Anton Volchenkov take a seat instead. Conversely, I can completely understand Loktionov getting scratched. He was a non-factor in Ottawa. He didn't get much going, he didn't attempt much in a game loaded with Devils attempts, and he was often invisible on the ice. As much as some fans would rather prefer a member of CBGB to sit, which would be silly considering how well they played on Thursday, Josefson coming in for Loktionov would allow him to get more minutes than if he were on the fourth line. It also means he's at center, which could be the role the Devils ultimately want him as opposed to playing wing in place of, say, Mattias Tedenby. Of course, nothing is official until later today so this may be much ado about nothing.
Our Hated Rivals As They Are: With Ryan Callahan out, Alain Vignenault was forced to make some new lines. Andrew Gross has them in this Friday post at Rangers Rants. Richards and Brassard will be joined by Taylor Pyatt; J.T. Miller gets bumped up to play with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello; and the called up Darroll Powe takes a defensive role on the fourth line.
I've already covered Richards, but the Devils should be very much aware of Stepan on their second line and Brian Boyle on their third line. Stepan has yet to score this season but don't get fooled by that. He showed last season that he can be a do-it-all-and-do-it-well guy last season. Even without goals, he's got five assists. Given that his wingers haven't been shooters, expect him to take more initiative. Letting up on him could spell disaster. Boyle is a big center who's often taking defensive zone starts. Even with those disadvantageous locations, he's just about even in attempts for and against which speaks to his capabilities in that tough role. So even if the Devils force the issue and get plenty of offensive zone starts, the forwards will have to contend with him. At both ends, too, as Boyle is second behind Richards in shots on net. Like Stepan, expect him to continue taking that kind of initiative on that line.
On defense, Michael Del Zotto may be healthy enough to play after fighting the flu so he could replace Justin Falk. That should boost their blueline, which they could use as they've been loose at allowing shots given their average of 33.5 per game. Then again, Del Zotto has been defending more than attacking. Believe it or not, the most dangerous pairing for the Devils may be Marc Staal and Anton Stralman. Stralman did really well with Staal against the Caps as they kept things moving forward. I'm sure Vignenault would like to see if they can do it again. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will remain together; I think the Devils should try and pressure Girardi more often as he's the weaker defender in that pairing. John Moore could be an X-factor as he'll get power play time on the first unit to go with his third pairing minutes. His defense-leading 11 shots on net indicates he'll bomb away.
In goal, you should expect the man to be the Rangers' man since the 2005 lockout: Henrik Lundqvist. It's arguable that he's been a false king so far this season. In his six appearances, he has an even strength save percentage of 89.7%. That's just woeful. He didn't have a good first game and he was crushed by San Jose and Anaheim. That said, his most recent game was a shutout and could be a sign of Lundqvist getting back to his throne. As with all past games against Our Hated Rivals, the Devils just need to throw him off enough to get pucks past him. Plus, plenty of pucks, of course.
Maybe Keep This At 5-on-5?: The Devils and Senators played a large percentage of their first 40 minutes on Thursday with some kind of man advantage. I doubt the Devils will get seven power plays, including a long 5-on-3, again. That may not happen tonight depending on how heated the action is and, more importantly, how much the refs want to play a role. While the Rangers' penalty kill has been below average with a success rate of 79.2%, Lundqvist has been fantastic down a man with a PK save percentage of 93.3%. Also, the Devils' power play has only taken a small step towards anything resembling competence as Zajac's 5-on-3 goal put the Devils at 2-for-22 this season. Maybe it's a good thing if the Devils don't get so many chances?
Likewise, they won't want to give the Rangers opportunities. While Callahan and his two power play goals will be sincerely missed, the potential combination play between Richards (at the point) and Stepan could give the Devils' penalty killers pause. While it rates fifteenth in the league, their success rate is at a healthy 20% to start the season. They have a healthier shots for per 60 rate in 5-on-4 situations at 60.4 - the eighth best in the NHL - per Extra Skater. Taking calls isn't usually a smart idea but the Rangers could make the Devils pay if given enough time with an extra man.
Summary: Overall, even without Nash, Callahan, and Hagelin, the Rangers will be formidable opponents. Throw in the facts that it's a hated rivalry and the Devils have found ways to not win each of their seven games, and getting a result could be a daunting task. If there's any remote chance the Devils can build off the crowd, then this should provide an answer. The thousands and thousands who will pay or have paid a lot of money for this game will be hoping for a reason to smile after it's over; they're certainly not going to sit on their hands and be quiet as play goes on. I expect a hot, emotional crowd and I expect a tough game befitting of a rivalry even though both teams wished their records were better. I can only hope I don't have to start the recap later tonight with "Winless in Eight." It won't be a happy one if it was.
Your Take: Will the Devils finally get a win tonight? Do you think they have the lineup to do it? Can they contain Brad Richards and beat Lundqvist like some other teams did earlier this season? Will those at the Rock leave happily? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's rivalry game in the comments. Thank you for reading.