The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are already part of a rivalry that isn't short on emotion, excitement and chippiness. That clash be kicked up a notch Tuesday night at the Prudential Center (7:00 p.m. MSG/MSG+) as the two teams meet for the first time all season -- the longest in history the two teams have waited to play each other. The Blueshirts (18-8-4) have played 30 games, while the Devils (18-13-1) 32.
When these two rivals faceoff, records do not matter. But this matchup features a surging Devils squad that has won four straight and six of their last seven, and a Blueshirts group that has run into some uneven play lately, winning a regulation last-second thriller in Phoenix on Saturday, but with just three wins in their last seven games. Overall, both teams have had very good campaigns up to this point. Maybe this is the game -- with all its in-game hoopla -- New York recaptures its early-season stride which is founded upon sound defensive play generating offense, a relentless forecheck and contributions from all four lines.
The Devils have other plans, however. Over their last four games, New Jersey has scored 18 goals. Captain Zach Parise (27) has eight points. Ilya Kovalchuk (25) has seven. And leading point-scorer Patrik Elias (29) has six. Suffice to say, the Devils' top guns -- and center Travis Zajac is still regaining his form after his Achilles injury -- have been performing just as they have to if New Jersey is going to make noise in the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey's newfound balance and potent attack figures to really put the pressure on the Rangers' patchwork defensive core. Now that Steve Eminger is sidelined, the Rangers are without three of their top six defensemen. Twenty-five-year-old Stu Bickel, a physical presence, is set to make his NHL debut on the blueline today ... while rookie Tim Erixon could get the nod as well if Jeff Woywitka (gametime decision, ankle) can't go. That doesn't even include Anton Stralman, whose game has noticeably improved, but is playing in just his eighth game with the Blueshirts.
Even during their four-game streak, however, the Devils have not been a model of stingy defense, allowing an average of three goals per game. Martin Brodeur (8-8-0, 3.08 goals-against average, .886 save percentage) has been a bit up and down early this season, but has been better lately, allowing two goals in four of the six games he's started in December. Henrik Lundqvist has been steady between the pipes for New York, with a 12-7-4 record, 2.07 goals-against average and .932 save percentage.