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NHL: New Jersey Devils @ New York Rangers preview

Metropolitan rivals New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers meet for the first time this season at New York's Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The Rangers (10-8-4) are looking to bounce back from giving up a 3-0 lead in the third period to lose 4-3 to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday while the Devils (18-4-0) go into the fixture on a high after beating the Washington Capitals 5-1 which was an 800th NHL victory for their coach Lindy Ruff.

New Jersey are 9-1-0 on the road and lead the Metropolitan Division, which they are +140 to win. The Rangers (+1100) are 4-4-3 at home and currently sit fifth, 12 points behind the Devils.

Lindy accepts apologies

The Devils have qualified for the playoffs just once since they made the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

Following a seventh-place finish in the Metropolitan last season (27-46-9), and after losing their first two games of the current campaign, there were vocal calls for coach Ruff to be fired.

But then New Jersey put together a string of 13 consecutive victories to tie their franchise record, and the Devils' supporters chanted their apologies to the experienced 62-year-old who said: "I accept the apology and maybe one day we can all sit down and have a beer and laugh about it."

Ruff is in his third season with the Devils and 21st as a head coach in the NHL, which has been spent with Buffalo Sabres, Dallas Stars and the Devils. He has led his side to the playoffs ten times including making the Stanley Cup Final with the Sabres in 1999.

In 2006 he won the Jack Adams award as coach of the year with the Sabres, an accolade he is +200 to win again this season with New Jersey.

Growing pains for Rangers

After making the Eastern Conference Final last season, opponents New York have taken some time to grow into the new campaign.

The Rangers' run was the deepest that they have had since they made the 2013/14 Stanley Cup Final.

Despite their success, many questioned their overreliance on Vezina Trophy winning goalie Igor Shesterkin who posted a sensational .935 save-percentage and 2.07 goals-against-average over the 2021/22 regular season.

Shesterkin is +500 behind New York Islanders' Ilya Sorokin to win the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie again, although his save percentage has dropped to a more standard .914.

Shesterkin is 10-3-3 and will need to be at his very best to give the Rangers a chance to win against a super confident Devils team who have scored the third most goals in the league (82).

Devils comfortable in net

In contrast to the Rangers, the Devils have had no consistency between the pipes for several years with Mackenzie Blackwood struggling to maintain the form which he produced in his first two seasons in the NHL (2018-20).

After registering a .918 and then .915 save percentage while on an entry level contract, Mackenzie signed a three-year deal with the Devils in 2020, but since his numbers have plummeted as injuries and off-ice issues have plagued him.

Injured again, the load in goal has fallen to off-season acquisition Vitek Vanecek, 26, who was signed as a free agent from the Washington Capitals and he has brought much needed stability going 10-2-0 with a .923 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against-average (GAA).

Blackwood's injury has also given opportunity to 22-year-old Akira Schmid who has won all four games that he has played with an outstanding .953 save percentage and 1.24 GAA.

With the Devils doing a far better job than in previous of limiting high-quality chances for the opposition, whoever gets the nod to start against the Rangers will certainly give the Devils chance to win, a luxury they are relieved to finally have.

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Average special teams

Neither the Devils (20.3%, 21st in the NHL), nor Rangers (21.3%, 16th in the NHL) have been able to get their powerplay firing consistently this season and with each strong on the penalty-kill (Devils 81.9%, 7th and Rangers 81.8% 8th), the game is more likely to be decided by who performs best 5-on-5.

Fifty-nine of New Jersey's 82 goals have been scored at even-strength, and they lead the league in that category. New York have scored 42 of 66 goals while five-on-five which ranks 16th.

The Devils' 30 goals conceded at even strength (of 48) is third lowest in the NHL while the Rangers' 43 (of 61) is 17th in the league.

On-fire trio driving Devils

Key to the game will be whether New York can contain the Devils' trio of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier, who have been in scintillating form.

Hughes scored a hat-trick against the Capitals on Saturday to lead the Devils in goals (11) and points (25), while Bratt has 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) and Captain Hischier 24 points (ten goals, 14 assists).

New York also possess a threat, though, with Mike Zibanejad and Chris Kreider each on ten goals and Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox leading the team for points with 24.

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