If familiarity breeds contempt, there should be animosity aplenty on Sunday when the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers meet at Madison Square Garden.
New Jersey Devils vs. New York Rangers
When: 7:00 PM ET, Sunday, December 11, 2016
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
|63||NEW JERSEY||0 (-110)||5 (-110)||140
TV: 7 p.m. ET, MSG Plus (New Jersey), MSG (New York)
PREDICTION: Rangers 3, Devils 2
The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils pick up their Hudson River rivalry Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, meeting for the first time since Feb. 23.
These Metropolitan Division foes are headed in opposite directions.
The first-place Rangers won two straight, three of four and already have 19 victories and 39 points through the first 29 games this season.
The Devils, on the other hand, are struggling mightily in all facets of their game the past few weeks. After a surprising 9-3-3 start, New Jersey won three times since Nov. 17, posting a 3-6-3 record. The Devils are in the bottom three in the division with 30 points.
Facing a rival like the Rangers just might be the tonic New Jersey needs at this point to cure some of its ills. It has almost always been the case that the Rangers bring out the best in the Devils, who won three of four games against New York a year ago.
“When you play the Rangers, obviously with the rivalry, it’s always a motivational game,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “We’re going through a tough time right now, but we’ll look to be a better team against the Rangers (Sunday).”
New Jersey struggles on the road, posting a 4-8-4 record away from the Prudential Center. Sunday’s contest is the start of a four-game road trip for the Devils, and part of a stretch in which they play six of nine on the road.
In their most recent road outing, the Devils allowed a season-high 49 shots in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. They followed that up on Friday with their first regulation home-ice defeat this season, 4-1 at the hands of the St. Louis Blues.
“We have to acknowledge why we haven’t played well and make sure we turn this around as quick as possible,” said veteran Devils forward Michael Cammalleri, who appeared in his 800th NHL contest on Friday.
While the Devils lost their last two games, the Rangers earned back to back road victories, 2-1 over the Jets in Winnipeg on Thursday and 1-0 in overtime over the Chicago Blackhawks 24 hours later.
Backup goaltender Antti Raanta started both those games and earned his fifth career shutout Friday in Chicago against his former team. Raanta has been terrific for New York this season, winning seven of his eight starts while posting a 1.83 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in 10 appearances.
However, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did not commit to a third consecutive start for Raanta on Sunday, nor did he reveal if Henrik Lundqvist would return between the pipes. Lundqvist’s play has been inconsistent as his 2.55 goals-against average and .912 save percentage attest.
“In this league, the way things are now, every team needs two goaltenders to have success,” Vigneault told reporters Friday night. “We’re very fortunate that we have two goaltenders that can do a good job for us.”
The Rangers will again play without three injured forwards Sunday. Mika Zibanejad is out with a fractured fibula, while rookie Pavel Buchnevich has a back problem and Rick Nash suffered a groin strain earlier in the week.
Missing so many important players means the Rangers need others to step up, and that is a key to the Rangers’ success. The latest examples came in the last two games when the struggling Kevin Hayes, who has one point in his last seven games, scored the game-winning goal late in the third period against Winnipeg and defenseman Nick Holden netted the overtime winner the next night in Chicago.
“I like the fact that everybody’s been contributing,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “For us, it’s about being gutsy, too, competing hard for pucks, and coming out with the two points. And we’ve been doing that pretty consistently all year.”