Tonight, the Rangers play host to the Devils in the first game of the season between Hudson rivals. Indeed, the Battle Of Hudson is renewed for another year where at least it’ll feel more normal. Even if it’s not quite a sellout at MSG, you’ll have fans from both sides emotionally invested on a Sunday night. Better a 7 PM game than earlier on an NFL Sunday.
The Rangers look to win their third consecutive game. With wins over the Panthers earlier this week and a more complete effort in last night’s victory over the Blue Jackets, they have to feel better about themselves entering tonight’s match. Especially with Artemi Panarin finally getting his first two five-on-five goals against his former team in Saturday’s 5-3 road win. Sidekick Ryan Strome added two apples while Chris Kreider continued his torrid start with a pair of goals including his seventh on the power play matching a career high. Even Jacob Trouba chipped in with his first goal and a primary helper.
Undoubtedly, it’s better when more of the upper echelon players are involved positively. It wasn’t only Igor Shesterkin, who was fine after being taken out due to an incidental collision with Columbus goal scorer Alexandre Texier. They checked him for concussion protocol. Alex Georgiev subbed in and stopped two shots in the final 6:45 as the Rangers shut it down. He’ll make his fourth start of the season against the Devils. Obviously, he’s struggled so far. But this is a chance to get back on track. We’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.
As for the Devils, we still don’t know who Lindy Ruff is rolling with in net. Based on what Hasan posted last night, I would’ve thought Mackenzie Blackwood would get the second game of a back-to-back. But I checked Roto Wire and they had Jonathan Bernier listed as expected. That isn’t confirmation. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Blackwood had a couple of good games last season in Devil wins at MSG where he was bombarded. Let’s assume he gets the nod as he is their starter.
One thing to watch for is the play of rookie Dawson Mercer. A good skater who’s got a little bit of Mat Barzal in him when it comes to elusiveness, Mercer has been rolling lately. In the 5-2 home loss to Boston, he scored a goal and assisted on one. For the season, he’s got 10 points (5-5-10) with every single one coming at home. We’ll see what kind of challenge he presents for the Rangers defensively.
I’ve already covered the continued struggles of Alexis Lafreniere. He remains stuck on three goals and a helper while playing on the third line. Though you wouldn’t know it by the ice time he received yesterday. I really wonder if he wouldn’t be better served playing major minutes with the Wolf Pack. I guess it depends on how things go. It seems like a waste to play him if he’s not able to earn Gerard Gallant’s trust.
Dougie Hamilton makes a difference for the Devils patrolling the blue line. They certainly pay him enough. He’s exactly as advertised. A terrific skater who can control the game at five-on-five and run the power play. Former Rangers’ draft pick Ryan Graves has made a good partner on their top pair. He took the warm-ups and is a game time decision after exiting yesterday’s game with an injury.
I’m still astonished that the old regime run by Jeff Gorton never gave Graves a look following The Letter. He’s proven to be a capable top four defenseman who is a good skater for his size that does a bit of everything. The opposite of K’Andre Miller, who in my view would be better served as a forward. Maybe he needs to be at Hartford. There’s talent there when you see the skating. Sometimes, the decision making is lacking. Miller is young and still learning. Let’s hope he gets it.
The Devils are getting improved scoring from Andreas Johnsson. His ’21 is well documented. He has turned the page and is contributing in the goal department and assists. Nico Hischier has picked it up recently. A good two-way center, the former top pick is more of a playmaker than finisher. He can play even strength, power play and penalty kill. A good overall player, the key for the Devils’ captain is staying healthy. So far, so good.
Jesper Bratt has been mentioned plenty by Hasan as being a streaky player. He can be really good due to his speed, or a non-factor. However, he’s been more noticeable lately. Another player who must be accounted for. The Devils recently recalled first round pick Alexander Holtz. Thus far, he has an assist for his first NHL point. But still hasn’t gotten that first goal.
It’s a Rangers tradition to give up first goals. I hope that doesn’t happen again. Holtz has a strong shot and will get a look on the power play.
UPDATE: Scratch that. It looks like former Wolf Pack enforcer Mason Geertsen is in for Holtz. You know what that means. Fireworks 🎆 🎇 🧨.
P.K. Subban is now public enemy number one for the slewfoot on Ryan Reaves in a pointless exhibition game. Originally, I didn’t think it was deliberate. But he did it again during the season and was fined for it. Keep a close eye on what develops here. Subban has been productive too. You still have to not allow too much space for his heavy shot.
I don’t see Gallant making any other lineup changes. They won last night and played two good periods. It wasn’t only smoke and mirrors like previous wins. Julien Gauthier also had an effective game, picking up a key secondary assist on the Trouba goal while also drawing a penalty. He should remain in on the third line with Lafreniere and Barclay Goodrow, who so far has silenced critics. He and Sammy Blais have been two players Gallant can count on. Goodrow for his penalty killing and ability to move around and even take face-offs. Blais for his strong forecheck and physicality. I’d also throw Kevin Rooney in there as well. The ex-Devil continues to be a good addition since Gorton added him last season.
So, what to expect? I am not sure on the score. But I feel there will be a bit more intensity that we’ve seen from these two bitter rivals in a while. I’ll have a game story later.