Monday, March 19, 2012

N.Y. Rangers ~ Devils; Battle of the Hudson - VI




New Jersey Devils

33rd Street at 7th Avenue

Devils Lead Series 3-2

I - NYR 4; NJD 1
II - NJD 4; NYR 3*
III - NJD 1; NYR 0
IV - NYR 2; NJD 0
V - NJD 4; NYR 1

NEW YORK RANGERS:  March Has Been Madness on Ice.


I'd rather know what this team lacks heading into the off-season, than to have rued the day we destroyed what we once had and worked so hard to build.  Would Rick Nash, minus Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan McDonagh, or Michael Del Zotto, have helped us beat the Penguins or the Avalanche?  Against Pittsburgh; I doubt it.  Against Colorado; we took our highest shots on goal total of the season and overall did more than enough in the game to win.  But Colorado's Semyon Varlamov did what he did to us a few years ago in the playoffs when he tended net with Washington; which was shut us down cold..., again.  So my answer is no.  Rick Nash wouldn't have made the difference.  Would he additionally have provided the difference against the Chicago Blackhawks?  Again, I don't think so.

That said, perhaps better goal tending on our part could have served us better.  Marty Biron certainly had better days and Henrik is coming off the flu.  Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto missing several games hasn't help either.  But I'm not one for excuses.  While the Rangers are winding down a great regular season, there are still problems that stem back to multiple early season poundings suffered against Toronto and Montreal, followed by season long problems handling Ottawa, and New Jersey, whom (minus Ottawa) we will all face next.  If not for Marc Staal, they all defeated us during our healthiest times.

March has been Maddening for the Rangers.  They are 4-6 this month, and are losers of four of their last six games.  And YES! - The Penguins are at the gates.  They are now only one point behind the Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead and two away from knocking us down to fourth place in the Conference where Philly lurks; and who will want to have a say in the final standings too.

On Sunday, the Pens lost to Philly ending their eleven game winning streak.  So for the moment, everything is fluid.  The Rangers must take advantage and gain two points against the Devils Monday night.  For points are now of the utmost impotance in order to gain some separation over Pittsburgh before we meet them again for the final time this season.  The reappearance of Sidney Crosby just makes things that much more tougher for the Rangers on all counts.  In any scenario, the Rangers now most likely have to win that game and many more in order to preserve their current standing.  They will have to do this while the Pens are playing incredible Hockey.  It's a simple as that.  No team has had an answer for them in the last eleven games until Philly finally beat them.  And Sidney Crosby is only getting started.

But to panic now would be wrong.  I am very glad the Rangers held their ground during the trade deadline.  This team is still telling us who they are and look like they have a lot more to say before being through for the summer.  The season they've had already is well on it's way to making a lasting mark in 'Ol Tex's history book.

The Rangers have been flying high since December 23rd.  But now, the late in-season corrections are taking their due course.  The defending champion Boston Bruins aren't proving themselves to be too formidable anymore.  Unlike last season, New Jersey isn't playing as feeble.  And Washington has played it's way back into the pack.  The Rangers will fall in line where they fall.

The Blueshirts have 95 points with eleven games left to play.  For the moment, it is safe to say they will achieve the century mark in points for the first time since the 2005-2006 season (100 points), and for only the second time since their last Stanley Cup (112 points) winning season.  In all, since 1926, they have gained 100 points in a season six times.

Recent Ranger history says seasons like this only come along once every nine to ten years.  Overall, Ranger history says it only happens once every fourteen and a half years.  But the Rangers never earned more than 100 points in a season before the 1970-1971 season.  Between 1970 and 1973, they managed the feat three consecutive seasons.  They gained 100+ points twice more in the 1990's, then did it for the last time during the 2005-2006 season.

As Ranger Fans, how can we be critical of that?  Therefore, do not lose sleep over the Penguins.  The final stretch is going to be great.  You watch.  I suggest you sit at the edge of your seat at home or in the Garden, and enjoy it.  The end of the regular season will be like an old school 15th round of a heavy-weight title bout, only reoccurring eleven times.

After the Devils, they will face the Red Wings; Sabres and Maple Leafs.  Fast-forward two games, and waiting for them will be Montreal; Boston; Philadelphia; and Pittsburgh again.  They will finish the regular season against the resurgent Washington Capitals.  As we see, in the context of this season, the Rangers still have a daunting task ahead of them.  However, within the context of their storied history, we are in the midst of something great and still developing into something special.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS:  With Mighty Pitchforks in Hand,
the Devils are Back and Offering No Quarter.
Just Ask the Rangers.

Very quietly, the Devils have tormented Eastern Conference souls this season.  Like many teams, they may have gotten drubbed by the Penguins recently, but they are savvy, cunning, and smart.  They are also powerful, and dangerous, and offer no quarter.  Just ask the Rangers what happened to them the last time they played each other.

These Devils are playing more in line with New Jersey teams of old than last year's squad.  They are well on their way to officially reducing the 2010-2011 season to a complete aberration within the Devils' brief, yet very successful history.  After a disastrous start under Coach John MacLean last season, the Devils came on like a bat out of hell under Jacques LeMaire to make the final games of the regular season matter.  But by Devils' standards, they only finished the season with thirty-eight wins and eighty-one points.  Unable to overcome a debilitating 9-22-2 start, they failed to make the playoffs for the first time in fourteen years.

With ten games remaining on their schedule this season, they already have eighty-seven points, and under Coach Peter DeBoer, have regained their forty-win form by winning forty-one games to date.  Last year's disappointing campaign broke a run of thirteen consecutive seasons with at least forty wins.  Last year also marked the first time in fourteen seasons they didn't break ninety-points, and only the second time they didn't break one-hundred points in a season.

In their 2010-2011 season, their defense wasn't too far off from playing up to their yearly averages but grumblings about Martin Brodeur's advancing age and ability to stay healthy got louder.  Offensively however, particularly early on, they struggled mightily as newly signed Ilya Kovalchuck's scoring touch disappeared and Zach Parise was lost for the season before ever making it to New Year's Day.  The team failed to score over 200 goals for only their second time in their New Jersey history, and narrowly averted breaking their record low of 136 goals scored set however *in the strike shortened 1994-1995 season; the season incidentally, they won their first Stanley Cup.  So yes, last season marked their all-time scoring futility.

This season, a well adjusted Ilya Kovalchuck; a healthy Zach Parise; and life-long Devil Patrick Elias; have provided consistent season long scoring.  The three have combined for eighty-two goals so far and are all over sixty-points.  Add in David Clarkson's twenty-eight, and the Devils' top four scorers have 110 goals this season which is more than half of New Jersey's total.  As a team the Devils have 198 goals on the season.

The Rangers have scored 195 goals in one less game played and only have one player above sixty points; Marian Gaborik.  The Rangers' top three goal scorers; Marian Gaborik; Ryan Callahan; and Brad Richards; have combined on eighty-four goals this season.  Of course, the Rangers' League true advantage this season is on Defense.

The Devils are currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.  They've managed this playing in the NHL's toughest division.  Four of the five Atlantic Division teams have at least forty wins this season.  If the season ended today, I can certainly envision the Devils getting passed the Florida Panthers in a first round match-up.  But for now, they have Ottawa fast approaching in seventh place with eighty-four points to worry about.

The 2011-2012 season was a season in which New Jersey retired #27 in honor of long time favorite and Devils great, Scott Niedermeyer.  And this was also the season in which Patrick Elias played in his 1,000th game as a Devil.  On December 17, 2011, he also passed John MacLean to take over the New Jersey Devils All-Time lead in goals scored.  He broke Johnny Mac's franchise record with his 348th goal.  To date, he has 359 goals and counting.  Elias, like the Devils, has already out-produced last season's output.  He finished last season with sixty-two points.  This season, he is up to sixty-eight.

While the Devils are at the tail end of a glorious run, they have shown this season, that it's not over yet.  Not if Martin Brodeur has something to say about it.  There is still greatness left in the All-Time NHL wins leader. - Enough for this season at least.  Again, you can ask the Rangers about that.  He shut them out 1-0 back on February 7th and helped the Devils become the first team to beat the Rangers three times this season.

Hey Devil fans, even you have to admit I give the Devils a fair shake.

*CREDIT - Devils Playground Graffiti; Bushwick


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