Saturday night at the Prudential Center the Rangers (2-4-0, 4 pts) renew their rivalry with the New Jersey Devils (0-4-3, 3 pts), playing their second of three straight games within the Metropolitan Division and their seventh of nine-straight road games to open up the 2013-14 season. Despite facing a winless opponent the Rangers have concerns of their own, as Ryan Callahan's broken thumb has landed him on the sidelines where he joins the injured Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin--meaning the Rangers will go forward for a stretch without three of their top forwards. To that end the mantra from the coaches and players Friday was that this just opens up opportunities for others to step up and be difference makers.
There was a lineup full of difference makers Wednesday night when the Rangers shut out the Capitals 2-0 in the team's most complete 60 minute effort so far thus young season. From Henrik Lundqvist and his 22 saves of perfection, to John Moore and his first goal, to Brad Richards and his two assists, to a monster defensive showing from Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, to a spotless 4-for-4 effort on the penalty kill, the Rangers excelled in all phases of the game Wednesday. Of course that also included a vintage performance from Callahan, who scored a goal, delivered five hits, and had six shots on goal. The trick will be to carry that solid effort and all-around play into Saturday's tilt with the Devils, even without Callahan leading the way.
Darroll Powe was recalled from Hartford to take Callahan's lineup spot as well his place on the penalty killing unit, but it will be Taylor Pyatt who gets the chance to replace Callahan on the No. 1 line with Derick Brassard and Brad Richards and who will replace the team's captain on the top power play unit. Pyatt, like fellow forwards Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot to name two, is scoreless so far rhis season and will be counted upon to raise his level of play offensively to help compensate for the absences of Callahan and Nash.
Former first round pick J.T. Miller will also be given extra minutes with an expectation he will produce offensively on Saturday. Miller is being bumped from the fourth line up to the second, and will skate with Derek Stepan who leads the team with five assists. Zuccarello will round out that line.
Heading into action on Saturday only three Rangers forwards have scored a goal this season---Richards (4), Callahan (3), and Derek Dorsett. Of course only two of those players will be in the lineup against the Devils. Defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and John Moore have all added one goal apiece.
Head coach Alain Vigneault was still contemplating which of his six defensemen to dress on Saturday. Michael Del Zotto did not play against Washington because of the flu, but he returned to practice on Friday. That was not enough for Vigneault to automatically put him back in the lineup. Justin Falk played just under nine minutes in Del Zotto's spot on Wednesday, picking up a fighting major and a couple big hits along the way.
The Devils are the league's only winless team, though they have earned three points thanks to three losses after regulation play. They have lost their last three games in regulation, including Thursday's 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Ottawa Senators in which New Jersey held a 42-22 shots advantage, but in which Craig Anderson cleanly won the goalie duel from Martin Brodeur. Devils coach Peter DeBoer has been alternating his goaltenders so far this season, meaning that the Rangers will see Cory Schneider Saturday, while Brodeur serves as the backup.
After having lost Zach Parise to free agency two summers ago, the Devils shockingly lost sniper Ilya Kovalchuk this past summer when he retired from the NHL so that he could return to his native Russia and play in the KHL. That one-two punch has devastated the Devils offensive game, and the team has notched only 13 goals in seven games. Newcomer Damian Brunner has scored a team-high three of those goals, while veteran Patrick Elias keeps rolling along with two goals and four points to date.
New Jersey has struggled to keep the puck out of their own net, too. They have been outscored by a 2:1 ratio, giving up 26 goals in seven games. They have been outscored 11-4 in their last three games.
Ryane Clowe will not face his former Ranger teammates on Saturday as he has been placed on IR by the Devils. So far he has one assist in six games played with New Jersey since signing as a free agent this past summer.