Devils Gameday Preview: New York Rangers

Both the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers are finishing a back-to-back when they face each other tonight at 7:00 PM. The Devils were unable to secure a win against the Boston Bruins, while the Rangers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3. The Devils will look to win one at Madison Square Garden against their rival who currently ranks third in the Metropolitan Division.

Last time these two teams met was on April 18, 2021. The Rangers won by a score of 5-3, scoring two goals on the power play. It was the sixth game the Devils lost in a row. The team goal scorers were Mikhail Maltsev, Marian Studenic and Nico Hischier. Let’s break down some storylines for the Rangers and Devils.

3 Storylines: New York Rangers (8-3-3)

New York’s Big Offseason Acquisitions

Over the summer, the Rangers traded for and signed Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow and Sammy Blais. These three players have combined for 11 points in 14 games. Blais and Goodrow bring Stanley Cup experience to a young Rangers team, while Reaves brings much-needed grit.

Last season, the Rangers were pushed around by the New York Islanders and more specifically Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals. Fans everywhere remember Wilson’s incident with Artemi Panarin, and at the time the toughness of the team was questioned. The acquisition of Reaves made sense, and did not come as a complete shock. Blais and Goodrow are also physical players who are fourth and sixth on the team, respectfully, in hits.

Kreider & Panarin Coming Off a 2-Goal Night

Yesterday, the Devils loss was due to the play of two Bruins’ players. If they are not careful tonight, they could suffer a similar fate at the hands of Chris Kreider and Panarin. Kreider has 11 goals and three assists for 14 points in 14 games. Last season, these two teams met eight times and it was Panarin who had 12 points in the five games he played against New Jersey.

Chris Kreider Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During the Rangers’ game last night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Kreider and Panarin scored within a minute of each other. The team as a whole scored three goals in 63 seconds. This is a team that can change the momentum of the game very quickly, and it is their top players who have been cashing in on those opportunities.

Related: Rangers’ Top Producers Are All Veterans Despite Young Talent

Igor Shesterkin Performs Well Against the Devils

Igor Shesterkin played very well against the Devils last season. In seven games played, he had a 4-1-0 record with a 1.54 goals-against average and .948 save percentage. This past April, the Devils and Rangers faced each other four times in a row. The Rangers won each matchup and Shesterkin was in net for three out of the four, including one shutout victory.

3 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (7-4-2)

The Johnsson – Mercer – Bratt Line Continue to Find Success

Lindy Ruff put together a line that consists of Andreas Johnsson, Dawson Mercer and Jesper Bratt. The trio have been one of the best for New Jersey as a line and as individual players. Johnsson is having a comeback season already, having 11 points in 13 games. Last season, he had 11 points in 50 games played. Bratt had a slow start to the season, but has at least a point in four of his last five games. Mercer continues to impress, and currently ranks third among all rookies with 10 points.

“They made a lot of good plays,” Ruff said after yesterday’s game. “They seem to be gaining some chemistry… That seems to be a line that’s catching a little fire for us.”

Related: Rangers-Devils Rivalry Waiting to Be Renewed

The Devils Will Need to Play a Physical Game  

New Jersey’s defense may have gotten bigger this offseason, but the forward core is still on the smaller side. Bratt, Johnsson and Tomas Tatar are all listed at 5-foot-10. Over their past 13 games, the Devils have not played an overly physical game. Over their last three games, their hits have been on the decline. When they faced the Florida Panthers they finished the game with 21 hits. They concluded their game against the Islanders with 16, and only had 11 hits against the Bruins.

Jimmy Vesey, New Jersey Devils
Jimmy Vesey, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This season, the Rangers are averaging 27.8 hits a game. On the other hand, the Devils are averaging 19.08. Fans can expect a physical game between the rivals, and the Devils will need to at least match their opponents intensity. Yesterday, Mike McLeod led the Devils with two hits, while the defensive pairing of Damon Severson and Ty Smith did not register any. Look for these numbers to increase tonight.

Will Ryan Graves Play?

In the third period of yesterday’s game, Ryan Graves was hit by Taylor Hall, which resulted in him heading down the tunnel with the trainers. He did not return to the game, and is questionable for today’s matchup. Graves averages 22 minutes of ice time and has been the backbone of the Devils’ defense.

“He’s being looked at,” said coach Ruff after yesterday’s loss. “Hopefully he will be able to play tomorrow.”

Players to Watch

New Jersey Devils: Jonas Siegenthaler

If Graves is unable to play, it will be Jonas Siegenthaler who will step into the spotlight. He has played extremely well defensively, and is part of the most consistent defensive paring for the Devils along with P.K. Subban. Graves averages 3:26 of short-handed ice time, and if he is out of the lineup, Siegenthaler will see additional time as a penalty killer.

New York Rangers: Chris Kreider

The Devils will need to be aware if Kreider is on the ice, especially on the power play. He has seven points on the man advantage, which leads the team in that category. He also has skill on the penalty kill, and can be a game changer in all areas of the game. Don’t be surprised if he gets on the scoreboard tonight.

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