The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are preparing to renew their rivalry tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Devils are coming off a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, while the Rangers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 5-3 last night. The Devils, who are missing talented forward Jack Hughes after he suffered a dislocated shoulder back in October, have remained competitive in the Metropolitan Division during the first month of the season despite dealing with some injured players on their roster. Let’s take a look at some storylines for both teams heading into this evening’s game.
2 Storylines: New Jersey Devils (7-4-2)
Mercer is the Man in New Jersey
Rookie Dawson Mercer has gelled well in the Devils lineup, compiling a stat line of 5-5-10 throughout 13 games played during his inaugural NHL campaign. He is second on the team in points, trailing Andreas Johnsson, who leads the Devils with 11 points. The 20-year-old is third in points among rookies behind Lucas Raymond (15 points) and Moritz Seider (13 points), who both play for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Devils are the youngest team in the NHL, with an average age of 25.5 years (from ‘Sizing up the NHL: 2021-22 NHL teams by age, height, weight and nationality’, The Athletic, 11/4/2021), and therefore will need contributions from their youth all throughout the lineup. With a young team comes excitement but also mistakes due to a lack of experience. However, Mercer looks up to the task of doing his part in helping the Devils take the next step towards becoming a contender.
Consistency at the Goaltending Position
Starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood displayed potential in previous years that he could be a No. 1 option for the Devils. He missed the beginning of the 2021-22 season with a heel injury and made his season debut over a week ago. He has a record of 2-0-1, a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.00 and a .945 save percentage (SV%). The native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, has gradually improved over the three games he has played in, and he most recently posted a shutout against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Backup Jonathan Bernier, who the team signed during the offseason, filled in quite well as the Devils’ starter. In six games, he has a record of 4-2-0, a GAA of 2.80 and SV% of .906. The 33-year-old has proven his capability in being a quality backup for the Devils, and the team has stability in net if he needs to fill in again this season for Blackwood.
2 Storylines: New York Rangers (8-3-3)
Kreider Is a Scoring Machine
Chris Kreider continues to demonstrate his dominance in getting to the front of the opposing net for goal opportunities. The longest-tenured member of the franchise has excelled with a stat line of 11-3-14 in 14 games played so far and shows no signs of slowing down. He is a threat to score on the man advantage as he leads the league with seven power-play goals (PPG).
His chemistry with Mika Zibanejad has been a cornerstone of the team’s success on offense throughout the first month of the season. The 30-year-old forward has battled bouts of streakiness throughout his playing career, but when he is productive, he proves to be one of the best players on the Blueshirts.
He also came to the defense of goaltender Igor Shesterkin when the netminder suffered a knee to the head from Alexandre Texier. Kreider did not notice that the Blue Jackets player was pushed into the Rangers netminder by defenseman Patrik Nemeth. The Rangers’ goal-scoring leader is a favorite to be named the next captain of the franchise through his leadership and play this season.
Shesterkin Continues His Dominance in Net
Shesterkin has been a reliable netminder for the Rangers and has earned the team a few wins based on his play. He has seven wins in 11 games played with a SV% of .929 and GAA of 2.45. His seven wins rank him fifth in the NHL in that category among goaltenders.
The 25-year-old netminder encountered an injury scare during last night’s game against the Blue Jackets when he took a knee to the head. He was able to skate off the ice to the locker room and was replaced by backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Head coach Gerard Gallant said, “He’s fine. He could have come back, but he had to do the mandatory 10-12 minutes [under concussion protocol]. As soon as he got to the bench he said, ‘I’m fine,’ but we’ve got to be safe,” (from ‘Rangers survive Igor Shesterkin scare in win over Blue Jackets, New York Post, 11/13/2021).
Rangers versus Devils has been an intense rivalry, and both teams are improved from previous years. The games are often mixed with fans of both franchises in attendance, which adds to the excitement of the competition. Tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden will be interesting to watch as two of the league’s youngest teams square off for the first time this season.