Going into tonight’s contest, these cross-river rivals are on two completely different ends of the playoff spectrum. While the Rangers are eons away from catching up to the first place Washington Capitals, they’re nestled comfortably in the Metropolitan Division’s second seed, and are looking to string three consecutive wins for the second time this month. The Devils as we all know, dropped their last three matchups in regulation. Even if they win tonight, they’re currently three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wildcard spot. New Jersey is in a pivotal position amongst a gruelingly close playoff race in the standings after their abysmal showing over the past week. The importance of these upcoming games this week for their playoff hopes is paramount. After mathematically eliminating the Devils from contention in 2013, humiliating New Jersey at the 2014 Stadium Series, and sweeping them in last year’s season series, you know the Rangers will play with an extra edge tonight if they can play their part in sabotaging New Jersey’s playoff aspirations.
Ten games since the all-star break, the Devils are barely averaging two goals per game (1.9). Their offensive woes all trace back to the lengthy sidelining of left wing Mike Cammalleri, who only until recently, relinquished his place as the team’s leading scorer. One plus coming out of New Jersey’s recent play is they’ve rediscovered their five-on-five scoring touch, although they haven’t been able to apply it to a win. The Devils’ second line of Reid Boucher, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri has been on an upswing as of late. All three forwards have at least one goal and four points over their last five games, most of which were scored during five-on-five play. Consequently, the Devils seemed to have found their stride in their five-on-five play at the expense of their special teams efficiency. The Devils scored on the power play once in the last three games, over which they had ten chances. It’s also worth mentioning how the Devils countered their power play opportunities with 15 penalties of their own. Although the penalty kill has held their own (aside from the Flyers game), discipline continues to be an issue.
The Rangers are 7-2-1 this month, shaking off what was a shifty January for the team. The Rangers are 5-5-0 in their last ten road games, and have struggled on the road mightily this season, compared to how they’ve fared at home. The Rangers have received stellar goaltending from both Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta. While their place in the standings could tempt the Rangers to give Lundqvist the night off if they’re confident their backup can withstand the feeble offense, the nature of the Metro-based rivalry will almost certainly make them go with their starter. Lundqvist is 1-1-1 against New Jersey this year, and is 6-2-0 this month. The Rangers will be without captain Ryan McDonagh and left wing Rick Nash, which hasn’t stopped them from having a prolific February month.
Who to watch
Lee Stempniak…He’s developed a trend in his game where he’s been able to find the score sheet against his former teams. His last (and only) goal this February came at the beginning of the month against the Rangers. Since then, Stempniak has only had two assists, and no points in his last five games. He could certainly relish the opportunity to get his game back on track tonight.
JT Miller…Like Stempniak, Miller hasn’t scored much as of late. With his last goal coming against New York’s only victory against the Devils on 2/8, he hasn’t scored in the six games since. Miller’s game has shown some signs of life after he tallied four assists in his last two contests before going pointless in the Ranger’s shutout victory over Detroit. He has three goals in as many games against New Jersey this year, and like Stempniak, could see tonight’s game as a golden opportunity to regain his scoring touch.
Where to watch
When to watch