Tomorrow at 7 bells the puck will drop for the first match up of the season for the Hudson River Rivals. This match up is worth noting on multiple levels, but as a Rangers fan, you have to put the bragging rights aside. There is so much more as stake with these rivalry match ups. Before the season began I said the Rangers had a legit shot at the playoffs. Even after a rough opener I still believe that have a shot, which makes these games against the Devils matter more than ever. The consensus is that the Devils will be a bottom feeder team in the East, so if the Rangers want to make a playoff run, these games are must wins. They play each other eight times this year and I’d say the Rags have to win at least six of these games to keep up with the big boys of the division.
First, let’s talk about the Devils. They are in the midst of a restructuring. After trading Hall and drafting Jack Hughes in 2019 (1st overall) the Devils are realigning and building to become a contender once again. Not far off from the Rangers (although I’d say that the Rangers are a year ahead given the draft luck over the last 2 seasons). The Devils have a lot of young talent, but will be missing their number one center in Nico Hischier. But that won’t stop them from being pest tomorrow night. Their new coach, Lindy Ruff (yes, the genius behind the Rangers defensive game last season), has done a solid job so far. The Devils seem to play a patient game and wait for defensive lapses to finally strike. They also have faith in a very, very good goalie in Blackwood, who can hold the fort and help grind out low scoring games if needed. Their play was successful against the Bruins where the Devils were able to grab 3 out of 4 points in their first two games. Look for them to play a similar game against the Rangers. Slow them down and make their defensemen make mistakes.
The Rangers success this season will come down to one thing. ENERGY. Everyone saw game one against the Islanders where they sat back and waited for opportunities to come. They watched the game blow right past them. Not one single player played within themselves, with maybe the exception of Gauthier. Game two was a whole different ball game and is exactly how they need to play against the Devils. Outnumber the puck everywhere on the ice. The defense needs to be engaged in the offense. Defending from the inside out. Get the puck the deep and make their defense turn. This sounds like all basic hockey clichè bullshit, but it holds water with the Rangers. Coach David Quinn has harped on the fact that the Rangers need to play with energy and remove all time and space from their opponent. This style requires hard work, discipline, and four lines. When everyone buys in, the Rangers are dangerous no matter who they play. What do I want to see specifically? I want to more pucks on net, leading to second and third opportunities. Too many times the Rangers are one and done, meaning one shot and the puck is cleared. This will also be a good time to work on playing a heavier game. Being physical along the boards to sustain offense. They will need to learn to do this when they start to play teams like the Caps and Flyers. I get the Rangers are a young team and success doesn’t occur over night. But this is the varsity now. These games matter. Every point matters. There is no room for missed opportunities. Rangers must get a regulation win tomorrow night.
My prediction for tomorrow is that the Rangers will find themselves playing a very tight game. I believe they pull out the win, but it won’t come easy. Special teams will be a huge factor and if they make the most of their opportunities, they should be skating to a comfortable win. 4-1 Rangers with an empty netter.