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One thing that will never change about Devils culture is the fan base’s attitude towards their cross-river adversaries. Although the tables have turned over the past few years, you can still sense the anticipation in the air as we wait for the two teams to renew their longtime rivalry. The Devils are coming off a frustrating 2-0 shutout loss to the Boston Bruins last night, which was one of three games played yesterday that officially kicked off the NHL preseason. The Devils are deploying a different squad from last night’s lineup, which will hopefully put on a more exciting and productive performance. Tonight, there are about five or so players set to make their inaugural Devils debut compared to the nine that did last night. Needless to say, tonight’s lineup should have a little more familiarity with each other, which should translate to them being able to put the puck in back of the net. Among the notable Devils veterans making their preseason debuts tonight are Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Adam Larsson, and Cory Schneider.
Like the Bruins last night, the Rangers aren’t necessarily deploying their big guns in tonight’s matchup. While Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan are indisputably New York’s most skilled forwards in tonight’s lineup, the rest of the offense consists of bottom-six forwards and a few AHL-caliber players. Two forwards on the Rangers worth noting are Brian Gibbons and Jayson Megna. Both previously played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent a lot of time in Wilkes-Barre Scranton when John Hynes was at the helm. It’s worth acknowledging Hynes’ familiarity with these two forwards, which could work for him and the Devils. Debuting for the Rangers tonight is Viktor Stalberg, one of their free agent signings that’s expected to be on New York’s opening night roster. He isn’t known for his ability to score goals but plays a fearless gritty game, which is something the Rangers have lacked in recent years. I’m curious to see if Stalberg and Dominic Moore get much playing time together as I can see them composing two-thirds of the Ranger’s third or fourth line this season.
New York’s blue line has a little more definition than their forward corps tonight. Veterans Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle will anchor the Rangers defense tonight. Two notable defensive prospects the Devils will face are Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei. Both players were respectively drafted 10th overall (2010) and 28th overall (2012) and are looking to earn spots on a deep Rangers defense (arguably the best D-corps in the league). While McIlrath is known for his physical game and ability to intimidate opponents, he has had a spotty injury history over the past few years, which has significantly hindered his development. His window is quickly closing and this may be his last good chance to make something of himself in the Rangers organization. Skjei on the other hand, has been one of New York’s top prospects and has developed at an according pace. The impact these two have on tonight’s game will certainly be worth keeping tabs on.
New York goaltending always starts and ends with Henrik Lundqvist. However, the “King” was given the night off and it appears that the net minding duties will be split between Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg. Both goalies have spent the majority of their pro careers in the AHL and ECHL. This year, both have aspirations to back up Lundqvist, which can only be achieved with a strong showing in training camp. Their trials begin tonight against the Devils and you have to imagine that both goaltenders are extra motivated by kicking the preseason off against one of the Ranger’s most notorious rivals. Raanta had decent numbers last season with stints for the Blackhawks and the Rockford Ice Hogs (AHL). With Chicago, Raanta went 7-4-3, posting a 1.89 GAA and .936 SV%. Hellberg made 35 appearances for the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) last year. He went 15-10-6-9 and had a 2.33 GAA and .913 SV%.
Who to watch
Jiri Tlusty…He’s making his Devils debut tonight on a line with Travis Zajac and Mike Cammalleri. A lot of people that commented on this late signing for the Devils have said it could potentially wind up being a steal for the Devils if his numbers from the past few seasons are any indication. Hynes needs to see results from his forward combinations and if he’s investing this much faith in Tlusty by putting him with two of his top forwards, he has to show that he belongs there, starting tonight.
Antti Raanta…Out of the two goalies the Rangers are dressing tonight, Raanta has the better chance of earning the backup position if his numbers are any indication. They could be misguiding considering how well he played on a Chicago Blackhawks team that eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup. He played an instrumental role in the Rockford Ice Hogs season last year, who finished fourth in the AHL’s western conference. The backup position is an important yet overlooked role for the Rangers. Lundqvist can’t start every game and the team needs to rely on a solid net minder to relieve him from time to time over the 82-game season.
What to watch
Chippiness…Both teams are dressing a lot of their bruisers and fighters tonight. Considering the rivalry between these two teams, it would appear as if an altercation of some kind is going to be inevitable. On the Rangers, Tanner Glass, Viktor Stalberg, and Dylan McIlrath are the forefront of New York’s physical element in the lineup tonight. The Devils will be playing Jordin Tootoo, Tyler Kennedy, Stephane Matteau, and Rod Pelley, all of whom have a history of playing with a gritty physical edge to their games and not being afraid to drop the gloves when it’s warranted.
Trips to the penalty box…Reminiscent of their first game in the Prospects Challenge, last night’s Devils team spent a lot of time shorthanded, which certainly factored into their inability to put the puck in the net. Hopefully tonight’s squad plays a more organized disciplined game and it shows on the score sheet. The emotional element that goes into this game since it’s a rivalry will definitely affect the player’s judgment on both teams, which could result in there being a lot less five on five play then we may like to see.
Where to watch
When to watch