Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Game: Rangers @ Devils, 7 of 8

Tonight, the New Jersey Devils host the New York Rangers for the fourth and final time this season.

Local TV: Fox Sports NY
Local Radio: 660 AM, WFAN
Devils Record Vs. Rangers: 3-2-1
NHL.com Preview

This week can be crucial for the New Jersey Devils with respect to their position in the standings. The Pittsburgh Penguins lost to the New York Islanders yesterday afternoon thanks to a last-minute goal from Mike Sillinger. This means the Devils have now played the same number of games as Pittsburgh (59) and the Devils have a 5 point lead in first place in the Atlantic Division. While there's plenty of season left, were the Penguins to pick up a point against the Islanders; they would seriously challenge the Devils over the next two months. If the Devils win more of their games this week than Pittsburgh, it can save them a lot of trouble down the road.

In any case, the Devils should try hard to win tonight's game: it's the Rangers. Rich Chere's article in the Star Ledger notes that the Devils enjoy the Rangers being so far down in the standings - currently fourth place in the Atlantic. The article is filled with wonderful quotes further establishing that, yes, this is most definitely a rivalry. Martin Brodeur, in particular, sums up my sentiments with respect to the Rangers' playoff hopes:

Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who will make his 30th consecutive start when the teams meet tonight at Continental Airlines Arena, has been taunted by Rangers fans for years. Unlike Gomez, he took part in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals when the Rangers defeated the Devils in overtime in Game 7, so he has a little less empathy for the team across the river.

In fact, Brodeur would enjoy helping to keep the Rangers from making the playoffs.

"Oh, yeah. It's a rivalry, you know?" the goalie said. "We were really pumped to take them out of first place (in the division) last season and it was really fun to sweep them (in the playoffs). When you live with their fans, you live with people that bleed Rangers all the time. Definitely when you affect their team, you've got to be happy."

Exactly. It's good that the Devils enjoy playing and beating the Rangers. It's also worth noting is that they are not taking them lightly. Their last game resulted in a win for the Devils, but it took a shootout to get all-important W. The win before that was a 1-0 game where Marty had to be the star. What's more, the Rangers are in a more precarious situation. They're sitting in eleventh place in the conference with 63 points, 3 behind Montreal, the Islanders, and Toronto (10th, 9th, and 8th place teams respectively). They need all the wins they can get and I'm sure they'd love to put one on the Devils before hosting them later this week.

In addition, the Rangers will be without Brendan Shanahan. He had to be stretchered off against the Flyers after a nasty collision with Mike Knuble and has suffered from a concussion. I really hope he gets healthy as soon as possible. That said, the Devils are worried that the Rangers will play bigger than usual without their team's leading goal scorer. The Rangers still have their leading scorer in Jaromir Jagr (21 G, 51 A); Jay Pandolfo will likely be called upon to shadow him as best as he can. At least, he should be, in my opinion. Martin Straka (27 G, 38 A) and Michael Nylander (19 G, 44 A) have also enjoyed very productive seasons so far, the Devils will need to keep an eye on them. Cam Janssen should also keep an eye on one of the NHL's biggest jerks in Sean Avery. Games between rivals can always get intense and it will likely happen again tonight, but Avery is not someone who should just do as he pleases. The fourth line, namely Cam, should make him aware of this.

The Devils will welcome the return of Colin White to the line up. Welcome back, Colin, please stop hooking opposing players' hands. That goes for the rest of the Devils: giving the Rangers and their eighth best power play (19.3%) many opportunities to score is a poor idea. Brian Gionta will not return, unfortunately. Sergei Brylin played well on the top line in his place against the Islanders, I don't see why he wouldn't start there tonight. Hopefully David Hale is ready to go tonight; if not Mark Fraser may remain with NJ and play tonight possibly in his place.

As far as what the Devils can do overall to win? Break their formation, ASAP. The Rangers have found some success forcing the Devils offense to play to the wings whilst clogging up the middle. One way the Devils can possibly break is move the puck into the corners and then cycle more often to get those Rangers defenders out of position while looking for the open pass. Another would be to hit the Rangers on the counter attack early and often when they have less players back in their own end. Henrik Lundqvist is a good goaltender, so the Devils will have to do something to solve him. I'm not sure what his particular weak points are, so I'll go back to my stock answer of just focusing a lot of open shots on net.

I will not be able to see the game right away as I have a class tonight, so you may not get post game comments for this one. I know, I don't like it either but earning a degree is kind of important to me. All the same, GO DEVILS!


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