The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils meet for the first time in the shortened NHL season on Tuesday night. The Atlantic Division rivals are both off to uninspiring starts with four wins and four losses, but the Devils own a slight edge thanks to three overtime defeats.
These teams were battling for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals when they last faced off. The Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers in six games before ultimately falling to the Los Angeles Kings. A win Tuesday night won't erase that loss for New York, but it would be the first step toward exacting some revenge.
Although the lack of preparation and limited amount of practice time is hurting the overall quality of play across the league, it's impossible to deny the added importance of every game, which adds to the intrigue. That's especially true in games between divisional contenders.
Let's take a look at all the important information for the rivalry game, followed by some players to watch and a prediction as the Rangers and Devils look to begin building some momentum.
Where: Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
When: Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: MSG and MSG Plus 2
Live Stream: NHL GameCenter
Key Injuries (via USA Today)
Rangers: Michael Sauer (out, concussion), Ryan Callahan (out, shoulder) and Chris Kreider (questionable, ankle)
Devils: No injuries listed.
Rangers Player to Watch: Rick Nash
Although Rangers fans were probably hoping for more than two goals in eight games from their prized offseason acquisition, Nash is actually playing pretty well, overall. He's tied for the team lead with a plus-six rating and trails only Marian Gaborik with seven points.
The goals will soon follow. Nash currently sports a shooting percentage below six percent. For his career, it's near 13 percent. So it's only a matter of time before he starts finding the net more often, providing New York with the offensive boost it was expecting.
There were some questions after the Rangers acquired Nash about how he would handle the bright lights of New York City after spending his entire career in Columbus. At least so far, it hasn't appeared to have any type of significant impact on his play.
Remain patient, Rangers fans. A goal barrage from Nash is on the way and it will jump-start the team when it happens.
Devils Player to Watch: Ilya Kovalchuk
After some early hoopla surrounding Kovalchuk, who wasn't exactly eager to leave the KHL when the NHL lockout finally ended, the story has died down. Now the Devils are just worried about him getting on the score sheet more often.
In many respects, the same things that were said about Nash carry over to Kovalchuk. His shooting percentage is seven points below his career average and should rebound soon. Still, New Jersey is looking for more than five points in eight games.
On the flip side, he does sport a plus-two rating so far. It might not seem like much, especially for a small sample size, but it's a positive sign for a player that was a combined minus-37 over the past two seasons. A little effort goes a long way.
Kovalchuk is still one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league. It's only a matter of time before he gets back on his usual point-per-game pace.
Key Matchup: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Martin Brodeur
Two of the biggest names at the goaltender position face off, and both are still searching for top form after eight games. There should be very little concern about Lundqvist, but the same cannot be said for the 40-year-old Devils goalie.
Brodeur has been a stalwart between the pipes for the Devils over the past two decades and one of the best netminders in history. But eventually time catches up with everybody, and he certainly hasn't looked as sharp in the early going.
Lundqvist's goals against average is up almost a full goal over last season, when he posted a microscopic 1.97 en route to the Vezina Trophy. Like most of his teammates, he just isn't back at peak performance yet. It can all probably get linked back to the lockout.
It should be a close game between two evenly matched teams, so whichever goalie is able to make more key stops should earn two points for his team. The slight edge goes to Lundqvist.
Rangers 3, Devils 2
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