The Rangers and Devils are set to do battle for the second time this season, but this game has a lot more on the line than meets the eye (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG).
|Rangers||East Division Ranks /8||Devils|
These two teams met early in the season which saw the Devils come out with a 4-3 victory on the back of MacKenzie Blackwood and Jack Hughes. Blackwood made 47 saves while Hughes recorded three points and was dangerous every shift. But all of that is now out the window as ten games later – the Rangers need a regulation win now more than at any other point this season and for multiple reasons:
- Seven Regulation defeats in 14 games is very poor
- The Devils trail the Rangers by just one point, yet the Rangers have played four more games
- The Rangers offense is currently ranked 27th – powerplay ranked 28th
Entering the season, Rangers fans had hoped this could be the year of the breakthrough of the rebuild – or at least be fighting for a playoff spot till the very end. At the rate the Blueshirts are going – they are falling out of the playoff race rather quickly and could be the first team out of the hunt in the East Division. The Rangers have just four wins in 13 games to start the season. If you go all the way back to last season, the Rangers have just four wins in the last 18 games having lost all four games in the bubble and the final game of last year’s regular season. A defeat tonight could put them with seven regulation defeats which would be tied for 5th most in the league.
The Devils have had COVID-19 issues and are only now playing their 10th game of the season. Despite playing four fewer games, the Devils only trail the Blueshirts by one point and they are currently just five points outside the final playoff spot also with four games in hand. With the Capitals and Penguins tied for the final playoff spot and set to face each other simultaneously as the Devils and Rangers. Both Hudson River Rivalry teams will need a win to stay pace for the final playoff spot.
With a Rangers victory – they’ll remain just four points outside the final playoff birth and could be as close as two points behind fifth in the division. They’ll also go three points above the Devils and making those games in hands just that much more important for them. New Jersey would also be seven points out of a playoff spot and have to win all of those games to be in a playoff spot.
With a Rangers defeat – the Devils will have more points than the Rangers. They’ll also be just five points outside the playoffs which would put less pressure on them to win those games in hand. Even going 2-2-0 in those games would put the Devils just one point outside the playoffs and be in the thick of things.
New Jersey controls their own destiny no matter what the outcome is after tonight’s game, but how difficult it is will be determined by the Rangers.
The Rangers’ defense has been a very pleasant surprise and if they can get the offense going – it will make them a very dangerous team. In fact, they held the perfection line (Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand) to a total of zero points in two games against the Bruins in regulation. On the other hand, the offense is currently one of the worst in the league and no one would have thought given the Rangers were one of the best in the league. The Blueshirts have just two goals in the past three games and both of them came from the fourth line. But Tuesday night’s game gives the Rangers a chance to put up some goals; especially on the powerplay. While the Rangers’ powerplay has not scored, it has come very close more than a handful of times. The Devils have the worst penalty kill in the league entering the night, and they have not played a game in the month of February. So, while they are well-rested, they haven’t had much practice or many reps as a unit to try and stay sharp. This is a real chance for the offense to start to gain some confidence.
While this game means a lot to each team – neither will likely find it easy and it could even have some playoff vibes to it. Both teams could be missing some key individuals who would play a role in the game. For the Rangers, Artemi Panarin is still day-to-day and has not practiced. Unless he is feeling good Tuesday morning, Panarin will miss his second-straight game. Filip Chytil’s timeline is 4-6 weeks which means the earliest he could return is next week. And K’Andre Miller suffered an upper-body injury and he also is day-to-day and in jeopardy of missing the game. Brendan Smith did return from his upper-body injury and would take Miller’s spot next to Jacob Trouba if Miller is unavailable.
For the Devils – Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac, Nikita Gusev, and Dmitry Kulikov were all on the COVID-19 protocol list and unless they come off it on Tuesday, they’ll all be unavailable for New Jersey.
New Jersey will likely turn to their starter Blackwood who was on the COVID-19 protocol prior to the Devils having an outbreak and having to postpone games. Blackwood has played in just three games this season and hasn’t played since the middle of January. While Blackwood started out on fire, he has had this long layoff and could be rusty. The other option is for the Devils to start Scott Wedgewood who lost four of five starts in Blackwood’s absence.
Igor Shesterkin, who has been red hot as of late, will get the start for the Rangers. Shesterkin has posted a .930 save percentage or better in each of the past four games. After a shaky start, the 25-year-old now has .922 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average.
Colin Blackwell will move into the Rangers top-six for this contest while Pavel Buchnevich will drop to the third line. The Rangers hope Buchnevich’s presence on the third line will give the Rangers a depth goal-scoring presence.