There’s only six more days of hockey left before the Christmas break! Start cramming hockey pucks now, starting with Los Angeles at Boston (SN) at 1 p.m., followed by Colorado at Winnipeg at 3 p.m. and Columbus at Vancouver at 4 p.m. The usual 7 p.m. starting time brings with it two puck drops (San Jose at Chicago [NHLN] and Ottawa at the New York Islanders [SN/TVAS]), trailed 30 minutes later by tonight’s nightcap: New Jersey at the New York Rangers. All times eastern.
The Devils may not be having the success they’d like this season, but nothing can lift a team’s spirits more than a victory over a nearby rival. Let’s follow the Rangers back to Madison Square Garden for the Battle of the Hudson River!
Separated by only 10 miles, this rivalry was sparked the minute the Colorado Rockies moved to Meadowlands Arena in 1982. Since then, these clubs have met 267 times total, with the Rangers leading both the all-time series at 122-110-27-8, and the more competitive playoff series at 18-16.
Nothing details this rivalry better than their dominance in the 90s than counting trophies. New York‘s Stanley Cup victory in 1994 is widely known, as it was their first title in 54 years. But don’t let it be forgotten who they played in the Eastern Conference Finals. You guessed it, it was their old pal Jersey. The Rangers needed seven games to best the Devils before advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals to beat Vancouver.
Although they didn’t have to go through the Blueshirts (they have Philadelphia to thank for that, even though they don’t get along with that club either), it was the Devils‘ turn to take home Lord Stanley a year later. They bested Detroit in a quick four games that year to earn the franchise’s first title.
My, how things have changed since those days. Entering tonight’s game in seventh-place in the Metropolitan Division, the 12-12-6 Devils would beg for success like that, especially given their five-game losing skid. Although the defense and goaltending have not been phenomenal this season, the main reason for Jersey‘s struggles have been on the scoring end of the ice where they’ve managed only 70 goals – the fourth-fewest in the NHL.
With a team-leading 23 points, Travis Zajac has been involved in nearly a third of the Devils‘ scores. That being said, Mike Cammalleri holds the clubhouse goal-scoring lead having lit the lamp nine times so far this campaign.
Between the two of them and Taylor Hall, who has eight goals among 20 points with his new club, they have scored 35.7% of the Devils‘ goals. In short, the Devils need to find a way to get more skaters involved in scoring. No other players have more than 17 points to their credit, which is a striking number given the fact that Zajac only ties for the 36th-most points in the league. This entire offense needs a reboot, but it is going to have to be a team-effort.
Not unexpectedly, the Devils have also struggled on the power play. Their 14.9% conversion rate is eighth-worst in the NHL, but that can’t be blamed on Hall. He already has seven power play points to his credit, as well as four power play goals to lead the squad in both categories. Unfortunately for the Devils, that only ties for the 61st-best effort with the man-advantage in the league, which considerably takes the wind out of Hall’s sails.
Jersey might have been struggling on the power play, but they still find great success on the penalty kill. Led by Captain Andy Greene‘s 19 shorthanded blocks, the Devils have refused to yield a goal to 83.2% of opposing power plays, tying them for the ninth-best rate in the league.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, the odds of them snapping their losing skid are bleak, as they face the second-best team in the Metropolitan Division: the 22-10-1 Rangers, who are riding a two-game win streak thanks to last night’s shootout victory in Nashville. As has been the case all year, the Blueshirts are making headlines with their powerful offense that has already notched 109 tallies this season – the most in the NHL.
Like I said yesterday, you have to keep an eye on the club scoring title in Manhattan. Currently, the king of the dressing room is Kevin Hayes, who has 23 points to his credit. Similarly, Michael Grabner is not the sole lead-goalscorer anymore. He’s been joined by Rick Nash, as they both have 13 tallies apiece.
Currently rating ninth-best, New York has had a solid power play this season as they’re successful on 21.4% of attempts. Six skaters have headed that effort, but Nash, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Vesey deserve special credit as they each have four goals with the man-advantage, tying for a team-high.
The Blueshirts have been even more impressive on the penalty kill, where their 87.3% success rate is third-best in the NHL. Kevin Klein‘s 13 shorthanded blocks have been the most impressive effort on the squad, but 14 of New York‘s 26 skaters have notched at least one block on the penalty kill. This entire club has bought in on both ends of the ice, and Alain Vigneault should be proud.
Tonight’s contest is the second time these teams have met this season. Only a Sunday ago, Madison Square Garden hosted the Devils to a five-goal shutout Rangers victory.
Some players to keep an eye on this evening include New Jersey‘s Cammalleri (nine goals [leads the team]), Kyle Palmieri (57 hits [leads the team]), Kyle Quincey (+5 [leads the team]) and Zajac (15 assists among 23 points [both lead the team]) & New York‘s Grabner (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]), Hayes (+16 [tied for eighth-best in the NHL]) and, depending on who plays, Henrik Lundqvist (14 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]) or Antti Raanta (1.67 GAA on a .941 save percentage [both second-best in the NHL], including two shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]).
New York is favored at almost every casino in Vegas, and for good reason. All facets of the game are going their way these days, which is the exact opposite of what you can say about Jersey. Expect the Rangers to put a similar beat-down on their rivals as they did last weekend.
- Jean Pronovost (1945-) – This right wing played 998 games over 14 seasons, most of which with Pittsburgh. By the time his career was done, he’d notched 774 points and been selected for four All Star games.
- Dan Cleary (1978-) – The 13th-overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by Chicago, this left wing has played most of his 17+ year career with Detroit, where he was a member of the Stanley Cup winning 2008 Red Wings team. He still plays in Detroit‘s system with Grand Rapids, and made 17 appearances with the senior team in the 2014-15 season.
Third Star of the Game Vesey’s return to Nashville – if you can call it that – went exactly as he would have liked, as his Rangers beat the Predators 2-1 in a shootout in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to Nash (Hayes and Nick Holden) and the Rangers. Nash’s wrister was his 13th goal of the year.
It stood as the would-be winner until Second Star Mike Fisher buried an unassisted wrister of his own 9:22 into the second frame to level the score at one-all. As neither side was able to break the tie with the remaining 35:38, which included five minutes of three-on-three play, the important bonus point was awarded in a shootout.
As home team, the Predators elected to shoot first…
- …and sent Ryan Johansen into the fray. Lundqvist was not about to let that into his net.
- Wonder boy himself, Vesey’s shot was pure to give the Rangers a 1-0 shootout lead.
- Next up for Nashville, Craig Smith did even worse than Johansen – he missed the cage.
- Mats Zuccarello ended the shootout almost as quickly as it began, scoring on First Star Juuse Saros.
Lundqvist earns the victory after saving 31-of-32 shots faced (96.9%), while Saros takes the shootout loss, saving 26-of-27 (96.3%).
Another road victory in the DtFR Game of the Day series pulls the roadies within six points of the hosts, who have a 36-22-11 record.