New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers To Battle for Playoff Spot
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press
By Kristin Tullo (K_Tullo)
The last time these two teams met on February 5th, the New Jersey Devils had a 4-1-3 record and were sitting atop the Eastern Conference while their rival New York Rangers had won just three of their first seven. Now with more than twenty games played by each team since then, the Devils and Rangers meet again with things looking a little differently, as both teams compete for the eighth place spot in the East. Playing in arguable the most important game so far this season, both teams could find tonight’s match up as a pivotal moment which will either help propel them into a steady hold on a playoff spot or push them down to the rest of the pack where teams consistently fall in and out of playoff contention.
Johan Hedberg will play for his sixth win of the season since becoming the starting goalie for New Jersey and has been looking more confident in goal since the six-game losing streak New Jersey suffered earlier this month. Starting in net for the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist, who is coming off of a 2-1 shootout win in which the net minder made 29 saves against Carolina on Monday. Lundqvist has appeared in 24 of the Blueshirts first 28 games, posting a .921 save percentage and a 12-11-1 record.
Players to Watch:
David Clarkson had a three point night when these two teams first met, scoring two goals and adding an assist but while he started the 2012-2013 campaign on a six game point streak, Clarkson has slowed his pace down as of late. Ilya Kovalchuk also started the season with a streak of his own and has 25 points in 29 games, including three goals and five assists in his last nine.
For the New York Rangers, it has been Derek Stepan getting the job done with three goals in his last five games, scoring his eigth of the season in last nights win. The former Wisconsin Badger has 19 points, good enough for second highest on his team below Rick Nash, whom he leads the team with in +/- with a rating of nine. Michael Del Zotto could also factor into the Rangers success tonight,coming off of what could be his best game yet on Monday, tallying five shots on goal against Dan Ellis while adding three hits and one blocked shot.
Injuries On Both Sides:
Andrei Loktionov will miss his second straight game with an undisclosed injury while the Rangers go once again without Marc Staal who last played on March 5th when the defenseman was hit with a puck above his right eye in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Loktionov has seven points in his first 13 games with the Devils since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings.
Keys to the Game:
The Devils allowed Montreal to score first in Saturday’s 2-1 loss, dropping their record to 3-8-4 when allowed the opposition to strike first. If the Devils want to improve their 8-2-2 record when playing within their division, New Jersey will have to get on the board before the Rangers do.
Having offensive struggles of their own lately, the Rangers have scored just three goals in their last four games and will need to find a way to put more than one puck by Hedberg tonight if they want to steal eighth place. In order to break through their recent struggles, Rick Nash will need to find the score sheet for the first time since his ten-game point streak which ended on March 12th against Buffalo.
Adam Henrique will appear in his 100th NHL game tonight while his teammate, Marek Zidlicky hits career game number 600. Tim Sestito was recalled by New Jersey from Albany of the AHL but will be a healthy scratch along with Mark Fayne. Jeff Frazee was returned to Albany after making his NHL debut on March 9th where he relieved Johan Hedberg, making three saves.
Tickets are still available. The puck drops at 7:00pm at the Prudential Center.