The Rangers (15-14-0, 30 pts) kick off their longest homestand of the 2013-14 season Saturday night when they host the New Jersey Devils (11-13-6, 28 pts) at Madison Square Garden. From Saturday until December 27th, a span of three weeks, the Rangers will play nine straight games on home ice, the make up for having started out the season with a nine-game road trip while The Garden was undergoing the final finishing touches of its three-year transformation.
While the team is eagerly looking forward to this stretch of home cooking through the holidays, the Rangers are also well aware of the difficulties being presented on this homestand. First off the Blueshirts are under .500 on home ice so far this season at 5-6-0. Secondly the homestand begins with difficult games against division rivals on back-to-back nights as first the Devils visit on Saturday and then the Washington Capitals come in for a match on Sunday evening. In addition three more division foes---the Blue Jackets,Islanders and Penguins---are on the schedule during this homestand, as well as a Toronto Maple Leafs team in the midst of a fairly strong start to the season, and a Minnesota Wild team that sits in third place in the very tough Central Division with 39 points.
First things first, however, and the Rangers will once again try and move more than one game over .500 with a victory Saturday against a Devils team that has already beaten New York twice this season, outscoring the Rangers 7-2 in the process. The Rangers are coming off Thursday's 3-1 victory over the Sabres up in Buffalo, one that saw Henrik Lundqvist come within two minutes of a shutout, and finish with 27 saves. Rick Nash scored his fourth goal in five games, Brad Richards netted his team-high eighth, and Mats Zuccarello---like Richards---notched a goal and an assist. In their last three victories the Rangers have combined for 13 goals, though in their last five defeats they have totaled only five goals.
The Rangers have won five of their last eight games overall, but are also 6-6-0 in their last 12 dating back to a November 12th loss to the Devils at MSG. On home ice the Rangers have lost four of their last five contests, including Monday's 5-2 loss to the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
J.T. Miller was recalled from Hartford on Friday, and it will be interesting where he fits into the lineup. Derek Dorsett has been scratched in three of the previous five games due to a sore wrist, but even without Dorsett the Rangers had 12 healthy forwards before Miller's recall. It is hard to imagine the team would bring the 20 year-old back up if he wasn't going to play so it will be interesting to see what head coach Alain Vigneault has to say at the morning skate Saturday. In 15 games with the Rangers Miller has one goal and two assists, while down in Hartford he had five goals and six points in six games.
The Devils are coming off Friday's 3-1 loss at home to the Detroit Red Wings, a game in which they were held to only 11 shots on goal---and only three in the third period when the Red Wings scored twice to snap a 1-1 tie. Andy Greene scored in the first period for the Devils, while Cory Schneider made 18 saves.
New Jersey is now winless to start the month of December, posting an 0-2-1 mark in three games. Overall the Devils are just 2-5-1 in their last eight games and have now dropped into a fifth-place tie with the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. However they are only two points behind both the Rangers and Capitals, making Saturday's game another important one. Both the Rangers and Devils have scored 65 goals on the season, tied for third-fewest in the entire National Hockey League, likely making Saturday's contest anther tight-checking low-scoring affair.
Martin Brodeur will start in goal Saturday for the Devils, while Lundqvist will be between the pipes for the Rangers. Both Brodeur and Schneider have beaten the Rangers once this season already.