Rangers @ Devils
Prudential Center, 7:00 p.m. Wednesday
Rangers record: 21-14-2
Devils record: 9-24-2
The Rangers’ 7-2 rout of the Islanders on Monday night was fun, but it was far from perfect. Henrik Lundqvist came up big for the home team after several egregious turnovers and defensive lapses gave the Isles some key scoring chances throughout a game that Coach Tortorella described as “sloppy”. Although the atmosphere in Madison Square Garden was joyous following the win (frequent healthy scratch and Long Island native Matt Gilroy received a round of applause from his teammates and first star honors after a tremendous two goal game), Tortorella worked his team hard today during practice, focusing on the power play and responsibility in the defensive zone.
Ironically, the New Jersey Devils—famous in years past for their frustrating defensive trap—could also use some guidance in the defensive play department. The last placed Devils are four points below the lowly Islanders and boast an embarrassing minus-51 goal differential. The 2010-2011 season’s whipping boy, Ilya Kovalchuk, is a team-worst minus-26. Though he hasn’t scored a point in his last three games, Kovalchuk opened eyes when he dropped the gloves with Toronto Captain Dion Phaneuf in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Leafs. Kovalchuk’s frustration is shared by the rest of the Devils’ organization, including the great Martin Brodeur, who was pulled during a game for the fifth time this season after the second period on Sunday. The drowning Devils are 0-3-0 since Jacques Lemaire relieved head coach John MacLean, and they have lost nine of their last ten games. They will host the Rangers tomorrow night in the hopes of ending their current five-game losing streak.
Lemaire ran a punishing practice Monday morning, noting that the Devils looked tired in Sunday’s game against the Leafs. However, the interim coach singled out Patrick Elias and complimented the Devils’ left winger for his notable level of play. Elias leads the team with 24 points, and is expected to play on a line with Devils’ captain Jamie Langenbrunner and center Jason Arnott, who leads the team with only nine goals. Injuries have certainly plagued the Devils this season, and with Zach Parise still out, only a handful of regulars have played in all thirty five games. The Devils called up right winger Vladimir Zharkov from the team’s AHL affiliate, but it is unclear whether he will dress for Wednesday night’s game.
As for the Rangers: the waiving of perennial fourth-liner Todd White seems to indicate that Mats Zuccarello is going to be here for a little while. The Norwegian Hobbit has impressed in his two games with the Rangers, and he was rewarded Monday night with his first NHL point on Derek Stepan’s power play goal. Michael Del Zotto didn’t practice with the team today due to a groin issue, but Matt Gilroy most certainly would have been in the lineup Wednesday night anyway after his two-goal performance (the second being the eventual game-winner) Monday night. Gilroy is a plus-10 in his last thirteen games, and Tortorella remarked that Gilroy is one of the six defensemen that should be getting consistent playing time.
The Devils have won one game in the entire month of December—but the month is not over just yet. The team desperately needs a boost of confidence, and what better way for the Devils to regain this confidence than by gaining a home victory against their longtime cross-river rivals? A confident—but not cocky—Blueshirt squad will ensure that this does not happen.