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  1. NHL

NHL: New Jersey Devils @ New York Rangers Preview

The New York Rangers host Metropolitan Division rivals the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday with an opportunity to assess their recent progress against one of the NHL's top sides.

New York have had an inconsistent first quarter of the season (14-10-5) but have won their last three games which has seen them move to fifth in the division and within three points of a playoff spot.

New Jersey on the other hand have been the NHL's most surprise package this season and top the division with a 21-5-1 record and their 43 points is second best of all teams.

New York are -115 in the Money Line, with New Jersey -105.

New York enjoy upturn

The Rangers made the Eastern Conference Final last season, but despite that there has been calls for coach Gerard Gallant to lose his job after several lacklustre efforts, poor results against lowly teams and a number of blown leads.

But to Gallant's credit, a shuffle of the forward lines has led to an upturn in form with the Rangers - -110 To Reach the Playoffs - beating St. Louis Blues, Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche in their three-game winning run.

Over those games, the Rangers enjoyed contributions from their entire line-up and showed a chemistry missing in the early part of the season.

Line shuffle paying dividends

Notably, youngsters Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko have been paired with top scorer Mike Zibanejad and the trio have combined for eight points (five goals, three assists) over the three games.

Top point scorer Artemi Panarin has also enjoyed playing with Fillip Chytil and registered six assists in the three wins. Chytil's promotion has seen major off-season acquisition Vincent Trocheck drop to a third line with Chris Kreider who scored 52 goals last season, and 13 this.

New York's depth is certainly impressive, but it'll be well tested against a Devils side who are brimming with confidence and have scored the fourth most goals in the NHL (3.70 average per-game).

The Rangers have scored an average of 3.03 goals-per game which given the quality they possess ranks a lowly 22nd in the NHL.

Panarin has the most points with 34 (six goals, 28 assists) and Zinanejad the highest goal tally with 15, both in 29 games.

Devils trio continue to thrill

For New York to make it four wins in a row, they will need to contain New Jersey's dynamic young trio of Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt and Nico Hischier who continue to impress.

Hughes, 21, leads the Devils with 14 goals and 33 points and in a recent 6-4 defeat to the Islanders version of New York was remarkably on the ice for the final 6.02 minutes of the game which was the longest ever shift in NHL history.

Bratt, 24, is second to Hughes for points with 30 (ten goals, 20 assists) and Hischier, 23, is second for goals with 12 and third for points with 28.

The Devils haven't made the playoffs for four seasons and the appearance in 2017/18 was their only one since a Stanley Cup Final defeat in 2011/12. 

Almost certain to make the playoffs this season, with the thrilling threesome leading the charge, the Devils aren't just hopeful of ending the drought, but have accelerated expectations of contending for the Stanley Cup which they are +1000 To Win Outright.

Related NHL News

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Goalie duel

The Devils have suffered from below-par goaltending for several seasons but appear to have found an answer in off-season acquisition Vitek Vanecek (formerly of Washington Capitals).

Going 12-2-1 with a .916 save percentage and 2.30 goals-against-average (GAA), the 26-year-old has helped the Devils to the second-best defensive record in the NHL, conceding just 2.33 goals on average per game, and proven that he is able to handle the load as a starter in the NHL.

But his progression will face a stern test on Tuesday as he comes up against the current Vezina Trophy holder Igor Shesterkin.

The Rangers goalie won the goalie of the year award last season after posting a remarkable .935 save percentage and 2.07 GAA.

With a 13-4-4 record, .917 save percentage and 2.50 GAA this season, Shesterkin has naturally regressed to the mean, but with a .976 and .962 save percentage in his last two outings, the Russian will be tough for the Devils to beat and Vanecek to out duel.

The Rangers have conceded 2.79 average goals per-game, which ranks eighth in the league.

Previous meeting

Vanecek will take confidence from a win over his counterpart in the first meeting between the two teams this season which ended 5-3 to the Devils in New York.

On that night in late November, he stopped 35 of 38 shots (.921 save percentage) and Shesterkin 33 of 37 shots (.892 save percentage).

Devils forward Yegor Sharangovich (eight goals, six assists in 27 games) was the difference-maker scoring twice, helped by New Jersey dominating face-offs winning 60% and killing four of five New York powerplays.

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