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Game 65: Rivalry Renewed

The Matchup: The New York Rangers (29-28-9) face off against the New Jersey Devils (38-23-3). This is the fifth meeting of the teams this season. Currently, the season series is tied, 2-2.

The Last Rangers Game: The Rangers lost to Buffalo, 2-1, on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Patrick Kaleta scored the overtime winner, and Ryan Miller made 35 saves for the win.

The Last Devils Game: This was certainly one to forget, as the Devils were shutout by Edmonton, 2-0, Sunday night. The team barely made goalie Jeff Deslauriers work, and he recorded 22 saves for his second career victory over the Devils.

The Last Rangers – Devils Game: In the last meeting, the Rangers defeated the Devils, 3-1, at Madison Square Garden February 6. The Rangers scored three goals in the second period to take a 3-0 lead. Dainius Zubrus scored a goal in the third, but the Devils couldn’t mount a comeback.  Henrik Lundqvist stopped 41 shots for the victory.

Tonight’s Game: The Devils haven’t looked good at all since the break. While we as fans (and even the team) thought the Devils would turn it around, they’ve continued to play terribly in the second period and come out with a lackluster effort. They were shutout by the Edmonton Oilers! Clearly, the Devils need to turn it around. And they seem to step in the right direction yesterday after practice. The players finally admitted they haven’t played well and that they believed everything would go away after the break. Patrik Elias admitted people have sat back and watched Ilya Kovalchuk at times. Zach Parise admitted this slump is unacceptable and that the team needs to pick it up. Finally, the players said what we all wanted them to say for the past few weeks.

But words aren’t going to be enough to turn around this streak. If the Devils want to change their play, they need to do it on the ice. What a better opportunity then going against the hated Rangers. They come into the game sitting outside the playoff picture, and the Rangers have only scored 170 goals this year. But Lundqvist is a Devils killer, compiling a 17-6-5 record in his career over the Devils. The Rangers also bring Marian Gaborik to town, who isn’t 100% but recorded 69 points so far this season (35 goals, 34 assists).

The Rangers aren’t a great team by any means, and the Devils need to impose their will on them. I want to see Lemaire use an aggressive forecheck to try and get some early turnovers. Not only that, but the Devils need to be patient in the offensive zone. The team errantly threw passes to the slot and didn’t possess the puck in Edmonton, allowing the Oilers to gain possession and clear the puck. The team needs to set up and cycle in the zone. The only way to create offense is to skate in the zone and find open areas. The Devils haven’t done that lately, instead letting players try and take on the entire defense. If they can get back to cycling the puck and getting to the dirty areas, this team will have success on the offensive end.

On the defensive side of the puck, Mike Mottau or Colin White need to be benched. I know it won’t happen, but Mark Fraser played very well in the minutes he played. He’s looked better than both Mottau and White, whose weaknesses were exposed with their increased playing time this season. Fraser seems to handle the pressures of the league well, and he’s already scored three goals on the season (including two against Pittsburgh). He doesn’t back down from physical play, either. The rookie deserves to start this game, and either Mottau or White need to sit this one out.

Finally, as tough as it will be, the Devils need to ignore Sean Avery. The Rangers pesky forward seems to always find a way to get under the skin of the Devils. I’m sure everyone on the team wants to hit him, and Kovalchuk actually did in their last matchup:

But Avery succeeds when he takes people off of their game. To be effective, the Devils need to ignore Avery and be physical and aggressive. Let Avery do his thing and, when he needs it, give him a good shove or put him into the boards. But the team shouldn’t go out of its way to beat up Avery. The best way to shut him up is to win the game.

Game time is at 7:00 p.m. Join The Devils’ Den for a live game blog, beginning 15 minutes before the drop of the puck.

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