Relegated to the back page and beyond on most days in the New York/New Jersey area, for one day in January, hockey was king.
The sights were incredible. Gazing upon Yankee Stadium decked out in NHL logos was quite a sight. There was a buzz even before you entered the stadium. With media crews working to get fan interviews and photos, it was clear that this event was so, so much more than just a regular game.
I met a large group of fans for the game and we enjoyed standing outside of Gate 4 as the droves of people entered the stadium. It was cold, but it was fitting. I couldn’t help but feel that the outdoor game in Los Angeles lacked something because it wasn’t exactly “hockey weather.”
Walking into the stadium, it hit me that this chance to play a game outdoors, with a “neutral site” game was so rare. Yes, the NHL plays the Winter Classic every year and there will be plenty more Stadium Series games to come, but never have they played a game between two bitter rivals that are located so close together.
There were tons of fans for both teams. Some were surprised at how many Devils fans showed up for the game, but those are just people who don’t understand the passion and dedication of the New Jersey Devils fan base.
The fans were fantastic. Between some good natured ribbing and tailgating in the few parking lots around the stadium, it was a sight to behold. Swarms of people dressed in red and blue, ready to support their teams.
This game did something for the New York area in terms of hockey coverage. It showed everyone that hockey DOES matter to a lot of people and that a major event involving hockey can fill up a baseball stadium.
Inside the Stadium
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New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers – 12:30 pm EST
Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York City
TV: NBC Radio: WFAN
Here’s our mega-post for Sunday’s afternoon tilt from the Bronx against the New York Rangers. We’ll have predictions and unit by unit breakdowns.
Jacob Josefson – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
Dainius Zubrus – Patrik Elias – Damien Brunner
Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier
Andy Greene – Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador – Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov – Eric Gelinas
Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
Three keys to victory for the Devils:
1. Win the special teams battle- The Rangers have a good power play and with the ice expected to be a little slow, anything can happen when you’re a man down. As for the Devils power play, it has been excellent as of late. If they expect to win tomorrow, they’ll need the power play to be a part of that.
2. Don’t give anything easy- The Devils allowed some odd-man rushes to the Capitals on Friday night. Against a team like the Rangers, that will spell disaster. The Rangers have quite a few players who can beat you and if they’re going to give up a goal, they’ll have to make the Rangers work for it.
3. Play Devils hockey- Maybe this one is easy, but with the slow ice and a playoff-style game expected, the game plays right in to the Devils system. Look for the Devils to slow it down and possess the puck, they’ll make the Rangers run around their own zone for periods of time. Make the Rangers defend for long stretches and it will limit their scoring chances. The Devils will look to find some of the clutch goal scoring that they’ve had from all four lines lately.
With the showdown in the house that Jeter built looming less than 24 hours from now, we have to take a deeper look at the defensive end for both teams.
That means that we have to start with the marquee matchup in net, as we can now confirm that the first ever Stadium Series game between the Devils and the Rangers will see Martin Brodeur go head to head with Henrik Lundqvist. So far this year, the numbers between the two goaltenders are pretty even, with the edge going to Marty. The Devils have had Henrik’s number thus far, taking three straight against the league’s highest paid netminder. However, in the last two meetings, both of which Brodeur started, the Rangers have come closer and closer to turning the tables on the Devs. Games two and three of the series were decided by a single goal, scored by the Devils mere moments before and after the start of overtime period.
Coming into the Stadium Series, Andy Greene and Ryan McDonagh are the defensemen to watch from their respective teams. These two have been having two of the best years of any of the league’s top defensive players. Both are playing stellar in their own zone, and both have put up some great scoring numbers. As a whole, however, Jersey’s defenders, like Marek Zidlicky and Eric Gelinas, are proving to be more productive. New Jersey’s defense has contributed 24 goals and 71 assists to the effort, as opposed to 14 and 51 from the Rangers D. What’s more, the defense for the Red and Black has found the back of the net on the power play 12 times, while Ryan McDonagh has the only blue line power play goal for New York.
In the end, it will be the Devils’ forwards that make the biggest difference in the defensive game. While both sides dress very strong defensemen, the Devils offensive players are some of the best defensive forwards going. Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, and Adam Henrique are among the league’s elite right now, and backing them up are the likes of Ryan Clowe, Danius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson, Ryan Carter, and Stephen Gionta. These men are a big reason why the Devils have allowed fewer goals than all but three NHL teams, and fewer shots per game than anyone.
The Devils are finally boasting four lines and it can’t come at a better time. With Patrik Elias and Damien Brunner back in the lineup and Ryane Clowe and Adame Henrique producing, New Jersey now has some of the depth that they had hoped for coming into the season.
Coming into this game, the biggest question mark is at first line left wing. Slated for that spot tomorrow is Jacob Josefson. After being drafted, the Devils had so much hope for the young Swede, but he has struggled to stay in the lineup. Now, he’ll get a chance to play on the top line with Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr. Playing with those two should bring out the best in almost any player’s game and the Devils are hoping that Josefson can slide in easily. He’s a strong two-way player, which should allow him to log the kind of minutes needed to be on the top line, but he’ll have to show some promise to stay with that line throughout the game.
As for the rest, the Henrique-Ryder-Clowe line has been excellent lately. This line brings a lot to the table due to the diversity of their skill sets. In Michael Ryder, there’s a pure goal scorer, someone who can shoot the puck with accuracy from almost anywhere on the ice. Henrique has found a niche playing in front of the net and is making plays. Ryane Clowe has done a nice job of using his size and toughness to win pucks in the corner and create havoc in front of the net.
Not to be forgotten is the line of Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter. This line has a penchant for scoring clutch goals and they certainly know how to score against the Rangers. If the fourth line is able to produce, it’ll make for a much more well-rounded attack.
The Blueshirts have been paced by Rick Nash, who is on fire lately. Mats Zuccarello, who was resigned last season after leaving the club has been a strong addition to the club. Brad Richards and Derek Stepan give the Rangers a great one-two punch down the middle.
The Rangers have five players with double-digit goal totals, but have been a team that has relied on scoring from it’s entire roster. Ryan Callahan is settling in after injuries early in the season and Benoit Pouliot is dangerous as well.
With the ice expected to be slower than the “normal” ice found in a hockey arena, winning battles in the corners and creating traffic in front to bang home a rebound will be crucial for both clubs.
Don’t look now…but all of the sudden the new jersey devils have a top-10 power play, checking in at ninth in the league with a conversion rate just under 20 percent. That’s truly working wonders to go along with leading the league in fewest penalty minutes. For what the Devils lack in consistent finish, they certainly make up here.
The PK has stayed sharp really the whole season as they rank 2nd in the circuit. DeBoers ability to trust a majority of his forwards to take care of business on the PK keeps his offensive guns rested with enough energy to play a strong third period.
The Rangers aren’t shabby on the specials either…they are 7th on the PP and 9th in PK. Especially regading the PK…Alain Vigneault should be given a lot of credit in keeping some of the success John Toroltorella had during his tenure in NY.
Ryan Jahnke – 3-2 Devils
Dave Turner – 2-1 Rangers
Jeff O’Connor – 3-2 Devils (SO)
Our picks vary, but perhaps the most interesting is Jeff’s pick of the Devils winning in a shootout. Considering how bad they’ve been in the skills competition this season, why not break through on the big stage. While Ryan believes that the Devils will do just enough to skate away with a tough one goal lead, Dave picks the Rangers in a low-scoring affair.
Enjoy the game everyone and stay warm!
New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers, 7 pm
Madison Square Garden, Newark, New York
TV: MSG+ Radio: WFAN 101.9 fm, 660 am
Dainius Zubrus – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Damien Brunner – Adam Henrique -Michael Ryder
Mattias Tedenby – Andrei Loktionov – Steve Bernier
Ryan Carter – Jacob Josefson – Cam Janssen
Andy Greene – Peter Harrold
Anton Volchenkov – Marek Zidlicky
Eric Gelinas – Adam Larsson
Goaltender: Martin Brodeur
With another clash against their biggest rivals on tap tonight, the Devils come into Tuesday night’s contest at Madison Square Garden fresh off of a 5-0 win over the Nashville Predators.
The Blueshirts have been hot as well, as they sport a three game win streak and a 7-3 record over their last 10 games.
The question becomes, how can the Devils beat the Rangers? This is a vastly different team than we saw at Prudential Center earlier in the year. Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan are both back in the lineup and playing well. Brad Richards has been excellent and Henrik Lundqvist seems to have found his groove again.
This is a very different Rangers team than they were under John Tortorella. Alain Vigneault has this team playing aggressive hockey that has led to more goal scoring. Certainly though, that has come at the expense of the defense at times, as the Rangers don’t quite have that “block every shot” mentality.
So, let’s break down a couple of plays from their last game against the Florida Panthers and try to get a feel for what we may see tonight and how the Devils can pull out a win.
This is a dangerous unit right now. With young speedsters like J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider in the lineup, there is some speed. This goal in transition off of a turnover shows exactly the kind of skill level the Rangers have right now.
As we see in the image, the Panthers tuned the puck over, Kreider gains the zone, but waits for help. Ryan McDonagh alertly jumps into the play and sets everything up. Krys Barch tried to cancel out McDonagh and got himself out of position which allowed Kreider to find open space for a pass. The biggest issue here was that the Panthers chased. Barch played himself out of position and no one picked up Kreider which allowed for the opportunity. For the Devils, they’ll need to keep the Ranger forwards in front of them, but also be aware of defensemen entering the play. The Rangers are a team that will make you pay if you cough up the puck at neutral ice. New Jersey must limit the turnovers.
Florida scores here on the power play. The biggest thing to take away here, is that Kris Versteeg is just sitting in the slot with no one really covering him. They had a man on a body down low, but Versteeg was uncovered. He partially fanned on the shot, but Alexander Barkov was able to bang it home. What the Devils need to do is put bodies in front of the net. Get rebounds, get the defense scrambling and good things can happen.
Some thoughts for tonight’s game:
1) The Rangers are red hot too.
The Devils draw a really tough opponent tonight. One it’s a divisional rival. It’s their main rival. They’re on the road. Plus, they’re getting a team coming off some very solid wins. They beat Florida, took care of a Columbus team on the road and routed the Penguins. This might not be the best time to get the Rangers but normally the Devils raise their level of play for quality opponents.2) Worrisome home/road splits.
The Rangers have been really good at MSG this year. In six games, they’re averaging nearly three goals per game and have allowed just nine scores this year on home ice. The Devils road figures are frightening. They’ve played 11 games away from New Jersey and have only scored 19 times. On the flip side, they’ve allowed 33 tallies which is an average of three goals allowed per game. They need to start to swing this trend the other way if they want to start collecting consistent points on the road. 3) Brad Richards is back.
Remember when he was one of the laughingstocks of the league last year? He’s not this year. In 17 games, he’s got six goals and nine assists to go along with a plus-5 rating. The Devils really don’t worry about matching up against another team’s top line, but I can’t imagine we’ll see Andrei Loktionov or Jacob Josefson’s line go against him very much. It’ll be up to Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique to shut down No. 19.Prediction: Rangers 3 Devils 1
The Devils have learned to win hockey games over the last few games. However, those contests were against weaker opponents with noticeable flaws in their personnel. The Rangers pose a much more rounded opponent. While I think they will lose, they’ll play hard and be in it until the final few minutes. While it will mean no points, I expect this game to be a useful building block that will propel them to play better against high quality opponents.
“It’s great, I think the effort’s been there but obviously the result hasn’t been there but I think it was tonight. The guys played a full 60 minutes, even when we were ahead going into the third, we wanted to play the right way and finish the game the right way and I thought everybody played great.”
“It’s funny, we were slumping a little bit, but we felt we were playing the right way, these games are always intense, there’s always that rivalry, I think it was a good matchup at the right time”
- Adam Henrique on the team’s 4-0 win.
Andrei Loktionov, Adam Henrique, Michael Ryder and Dainius Zubrus all scored for New Jersey, en-route to a 4-0 win over the New York Rangers at Prudential Center.
For the Devils, the home ice was a welcome respite after a 0-3-2 road trip as New Jersey won their first game of the season, with a strong performance over their rivals.
Cory Schneider was superb in net, stopping all twenty-one Ranger shots, to notch his first shutout in New Jersey.
We’ll have more to come, including analysis and quotes.
By Dave Turner and Jeff O’Connor
With the season upon us, it’s time to see how the Devils stack up with the rest of the Metropolitan Division. With plenty of talent across the board, the Metro division should be one of the most competitive in the league.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Goaltending/Defensive issues aside, this team is still the class of the division. The only way they won’t finish first is if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both miss a considerable amount of time. As long as Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t melt down, they’ll be just fine.
2. Washington Capitals – The Caps struggled early on in 2013, but once they figured out Adam Oates’s system, they played excellent hockey down the stretch. Their X-factor is Braden Holtby. If he can take another step towards being a top-flight goalie, they’ll be fine. If not, they could easily slip.
3. New York Rangers – This team may struggle out of the gate with a new coach, but they’ll rebound in time to make a push for the top. With a better offensive system, look for Rick Nash and Derek Stepan to have an excellent season together. Things may get interesting if the team isn’t able to lock up Henrik Lundqvist during the season.
4. New Jersey Devils – Picking the Devils to finish fourth almost seems sacrilegious, considering where they’re being picked everywhere else. They lack a big-time scorer, but they’re a much deeper team than they were last season. Cory Schneider will emerge as a top-ten caliber goalie.
5. New York Islanders – They took a huge step forward by making the playoffs last season, but over the course of an 82-game span, their goaltending and defensive deficiencies will show. That being said, they’ll score a lot of goals and be a fun team to watch. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if they finished in the top-four or even snuck in as the wildcard in the Atlantic Division.
6. Philadelphia Flyers – I’m still searching for the answer as to how this team got that much better from last season. They replaced Danny Briere with Vincent Lecavalier, which is a minor upgrade. In net, they didn’t improve much. Though Ilya Bryzgalov was wildly inconsistent, he actually had some good moments. Ray Emery and Steve Mason are not going to cut it.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets made a great run at the playoffs in 2013, but they’re still a year away. They can grind you and as long as Sergei Bobrovsky can put up somewhat similar numbers to the ones he posted last year, they’ll be competitive.
8. Carolina Hurricanes – If the Canes are able to get some consistent goalie play, they might finish a lot higher than the bottom. Cam Ward is coming off of a major injury, so it’s not out of the question to see a lot of Anton Khudobin. They won with the Alexander Semin gamble last season; can they win again with Mike Komisarek?
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Even with the losses of guys like Iginla, Morrow and Cooke, the Penguins have plenty of youth ready to contribute on the third and fourth lines. Bringing back Rob Scuderi should provide a huge left to their D? Winning the division won’t be the issue…will Marc-Andre Fleury show up for the postseason?
2. New York Islanders – Bouchard and Clutterbuck will add a bit more grit to this young squad. Their young forwards will only get better. Nabokov is a known commodity in goal but the bottom two pairings for the Isles defense leaves a lot to be desired. If they want to go further than last year, they’ll need to pick up a blueliner at the deadline.
3. New York Rangers – Alain Vigneault’s system will certainly open things up offensively. How will the defensive side of things go? Well, they’ll have the same six back on defense so expect them to be just as sturdy as they were on John Tortorella. Their forwards are mostly the same as well. Expect the Rangers to have a better season, solely because Brad Richards cannot be worse than he was last year.
4. Washington Capitals – The pickup of Mikhail Grabovski is going to make Caps fans quickly forget about Mike Ribeiro’s production. Their roster mostly stayed intact and it appears their young goaltender is on the upward trend. Braden Holtby showed flashes of being a top-notch goaltender. One can only think he’ll take another step towards reaching that potential this year.
5. Philadelphia Flyers – Adding Mark Streit will immediately strengthen a weak Philly backline. If Vincent Lecavalier can find the fountain of youth, the veteran absence Danny Briere won’t be felt as much. As always for them…it comes down to goaltending. Can Ray Emery come close to reproducing his magical start with the Blackhawks last season? If so, they’re in good shape.
6. New Jersey Devils – Given the hand GM Lou Lamoriello was dealt, he did a very solid job patching up the top few lines. Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr won’t singularly be able to replace the productivity of Ilya Kovalchuk but that trio should make them a deeper squad. Can Cory Schneider push Martin Brodeur to play at a high level?
7. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets showed they are on the rise last year, but that was in a wide open West. Welcome to the East. Adding Nathan Horton will help, but he can’t carry a team. They just don’t appear to have the depth right now at either end of the ice, and it’s highly likely that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky can’t repeat his 2013.
8. Carolina Hurricanes – Their defense has a ton of question marks and their bottom two lines don’t appear reliable at this point. Cam Ward will have to be much better than last year’s 2.84 GAA.
There’s no doubt that the first year of the new four-division format will make for some exciting playoff races. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if spots two through seven are separated by something like six to eight points. This division will be close and every game will be important.
The first game action of the season is in the books, and it was a bit sloppy at times, but the Devils came away with a 2-1 victory over the Rangers.
Some notes and observations from the game:
- Adam Larsson logged top-pairing minutes and looked pretty good in doing so. He even delivered a crushing hit on “Mr. Atlantic Division,” Aaron Asham. I thought he looked poised, and even made some nice passes on the power play.
- Cory Schneider started his Devils career with a strong effort. He came out and made some nice saves, including a tremendous glove save of Brad Richards. He did seem to be fighting the puck a little bit later on in the second period, but all-in-all it was a good performance for the new Devils netminder, who was replaced in the third period by Keith Kinkaid.
- Speaking of Kinkaid, he was solid as well. The goal he surrendered to Dominic Moore came off of a huge rebound that he played right into the slot. That’s the kind of mistake that he just can’t make. After that, he settled in and made a couple of nice saves to preserve the lead. He showed nice poise by shaking off the goal and playing well the rest of the way.
- With the news of Damien Brunner being invited to camp, the pressure is on for anyone looking to establish some playing time on the bottom two lines. Mattias Tedenby took a nice step towards solidifying that with his first period goal. Rostislav Olesz also got the assist on that goal, so a solid night for both of them. Tedenby showed some speed at points, but consistency has always been his issue. Can he continue this throughout the preseason?
- I thought that Andrei Loktionov was the best player on the ice for stretches of Monday night’s game. He has the speed and ability to be a productive player. He has such a motor on him, and he’s always looking to make a play. The former L.A. King is strong on the puck and he seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. It’ll be interesting to see the development of Loktionov over the course of the season.
- The 3rd period goal by Eric Gelinas is exactly what I’ve been talking about since camp opened. He has a quick release and a very strong shot. If he’s going to make this team, a large portion of it will be because of what he brings on offense. He was relatively ineffective on the power play though, which is where he needs to excel. Positionally, he was good, but not great in the defensive zone.
- If I had to give Reid Boucher’s preseason debut in New Jersey a grade, I’d go with a C-minus. Boucher didn’t create much offense, and he took a penalty in the first period that negated a power play. He also seemed to have a little trouble battling with bigger bodies in the corners, most notably Stu Bickel in the first period.