The history includes the old Meadowlands, the Eastern Conference Finals, “Mar-tee” and Sean Avery, and Matteau and Messier and memories, so the first of two Rangers-Devils games in a week in December isn’t quite enough to stir up all the emotions.
But the matchups should be intriguing, beginning Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
First of all, there’s the expected return of the slightly tarnished King to his throne, which Henrik Lundqvist isn’t willing to abdicate. Coach Alain Vigneault played the Antti Raanta card in back-to-back road games in Winnipeg and Chicago, and he won both hands. Now it’s time for the Lundqvist, who has been an ace in the hole, to rise up.
Look at the track record: Lundqvist traditionally has had slow starts, but is one Blueshirt who doesn’t need extra motivation. He won’t blame his start, which has featured some uncharacteristically soft goals, on his role with Team Sweden in September’s World Cup of Hockey, which accelerated his summer training regimen.
It’s strange to not find either Lundqvist (12-8-1, 2.55 GAA, .912 save percentage) or Cory Schneider (9-7-4, 2.72, .911), listed among the NHL statistical leaders. Schneider (Team USA) also was in the World Cup, although he played far fewer tourney minutes (18) than Lundqvist (187).
In three tournament games — not counting the exhibitions — Lundqvist was (1-0-2, 2.25, .940), so many expect an NHL bounce back.
Across the river, with more than a third of the season in the books, the Devils — although they have gone 3-4-3 in the last 10 games — appear to be improving in the increasingly rugged Metropolitan Division. Former Oiler Taylor Hall, with eight goals and 20 points in 19 games, has been a just-what-the-doctor-ordered addition.
Still, the Rangers are 10-4-1 at MSG and the Devils are 4-8-4 on the road. In this rivalry, much like Rangers-Islanders, you put the records aside; the Devils want to make a stand in these games, the first of four this season.
Having said that, there’s a good chance for something unusual to happen on these next two Sundays, something that may tip the scales:
The Devils have already played an NHL-high 12 overtime games — including seven on the road.
Sixteen NHL players have hat tricks: The Devils have two (Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac), the Rangers one (Michael Grabner).
The Devils have been involved in three of the 14 penalty shots this season. Miles Wood didn’t score against Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck on Nov. 29; Andy Greene did solve Buffalo’s Anders Nilsson on Nov. 11, and Schneider outfoxed Anaheim’s Chris Wagner on Oct. 18.
The Devils have been involved in three shootouts: winning two and losing one. Former Ranger and Islander P.A. Parenteau and Jacob Josefson scored the deciding goals against Carolina and Toronto. Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang’s goal was the winner against Keith Kincaid. Lundqvist was beaten by Florida’s Vincent Trocheck in the only Blueshirts shootout.
The Rangers already have three shorthanded goals, the Devils two.
Think there will be an overcrowded penalty box? Probably not. The Rangers have been whistled for the fewest in the league (82), the Devils are 10th with 103.
Through 29 games, the Rangers have gone to a shootout just once, against Florida on Nov. 20. Here’s the franchise leaders list:
Mats Zuccarello 32
Michael Nylander 24
Brendan Shanahan 23
Jaromir Jagr 22
Ryan Callahan 20
Mats Zuccarello 15
Michael Nylander 10
Brendan Shanahan 8
Derek Stepan 7 (19 attempts)
Erik Christensen 7
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO....
The contributions of Oscar Lindberg, who seems to have rounded into the form he displayed before last May’s hip surgery, were noticeable in the last three games, and that may have opened the exit door for Josh Jooris, who was waived Saturday.
In those games, Lindberg---whose recovery was estimated at six months---won 19 of 36 faceoffs (52.7 percent), had 11 shots on goal and four hits. Lindberg, 25, had 13 goals and 28 points in 68 games last season, a plus-12 rating which was tied for second among NHL rookies, and delivered 138 hits.
Lindberg has played in 14 games. Jooris, 26, signed as free agent, has played in 12 games (1-1-2) after two seasons with the Calgary Flames.