The Battle of the Hudson River returns this season as the New Jersey Devils face the New York Rangers in the playoffs for the first time since 2012. This is bound to be an exciting matchup with the amount of offensive talent possessed by these two teams.
The upstart Devils are making a surprise appearance in the postseason this year, even earning home ice advantage as the second seed. The assets they’ve added through the rebuild have finally clicked. And the goaltending has been less of a liability as they have found stability for the most part with Vitek Vanecek.
The Rangers, with their high-octane team, are looking to go for a deep playoff run this season with their big trade deadline. This star studded lineup, backed by one of the best goalies in the league, will be a challenging matchup for a young Devils squad.
Season stats and head-to-head matchup
|TEAM/STAT||W||L||OTL||P||GF||xGF%||GA||CF%||PP%||PK%||Record vs. Opponent|
|New Jersey Devils||52||22||8||112||291||56.4%||226||53.9%||21.9%||82.6%||3–0–1|
|New York Rangers||47||22||13||107||273||51%||216||51.4%||24.1%||81.2%||1–2–1|
Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for % (CF%) stats are in all situations from moneypuck.com.
New Jersey Devils storyline to follow
The past decade has been difficult for the Devils. Only one playoff appearance, a ton of time spent at the bottom of the standings, and a rebuild that seemed to be neverending. Until now.
The Devils came out of nowhere this season to easily clinch a spot in the playoffs and even challenge the Carolina Hurricanes for the Metro Division leading up until the final game of the regular season.
This will be a major test for a relatively inexperienced team. The Devils do have a few players, such as Dougie Hamilton, Ondrej Palat, and Erik Haula, with extensive playoff experience. But, lots of the team’s homegrown players have, at most, the five playoff games from New Jersey’s brief foray into the playoffs back in 2017–18. Not to mention this being the first attempt for this core and group together.
They do have an experienced coach in Lindy Ruff, who should be able to help the team adjust, but can this team find their footing in the playoffs? Will they be able to carry the momentum of a season of wildly exceeding expectations and put together some postseason success?
New York Rangers storyline to follow
The New York Rangers have attempted to assemble a superteam this year. They were already stacked offensively with Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Vincent Trocheck in their top six. But the acquisitions of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane have put this team into a new level of star power.
So far, the results are not overly impressive. Tarasenko, brought in to be a scorer, has eight goals in 30 games. Kane has 12 points in 18 games.
Both players are averaging at least two minutes less ice time per game than they were with their previous teams. Which makes sense, given the quality of the rosters. And, according to Natural Stat Trick, both players are currently hovering around 43% expected goals percentage at 5v5 play, though their actual goals for percentages are around 57%. At least these two don’t need to take over the team.
As the Rangers do not typically perform well analytically, they will once again be relying on an overperformance from Igor Shesterkin. He has stepped up his game in the latter half of the season to head into the playoffs strong.
For the New York Rangers, will all these trades be worth it? In a season where the Eastern Conference is going to be a bloodbath for any team to make it out, was this the right year to make these big moves?
It is not often we see lineups with this amount of star players on it in the salary cap era. But, as mentioned, the Rangers managed to bring in Tarasenko and Kane at the trade deadline to add to a lineup that already had Panarin and Zibanejad up front, Adam Fox on defence, and Shesterkin in net. Five forwards and two defenders with 40+ points is showing some high end offensive prowess that any team will have trouble containing.
The Rangers have a huge advantage on paper simply for the composition of their roster.
However, despite the sheer difference in that on paper appearance in terms of offensive stardom, the Devils outscored the Rangers in the regular season, which seems to suggest that it may not be as much of a factor on ice versus on paper.
Additionally, the Devils have performed extremely well all season in their underlying numbers. They have regularly been one of, if not the top team, in various stats for expected goals and possession metrics. They play a solid, well-rounded game that helps to support having weaker or less proven goalies.
Hamilton, who has had one of the best seasons of his career, has given them exactly what they needed from the blueline offensively and the pairing with Jonas Siegenthaler has been outstanding as they have played together for the entire season. And their forward core, led by Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, now joined by Timo Meier, has shown they can compete with the best.
The Devils’ team game will give the Rangers a test this series. It has been a trend for New York to find success despite poor even strength and underlying numbers. And the game changing factor of having such an experienced team with one of the league’s top goalies in Shesterkin cannot be overstated.
This will be one of the most exciting series’ of the first round. A must-watch for some of the best hockey has to offer. The Rangers might have more game changers and experience, but the Devils have had amazing underlying numbers all season. Now that the roster is developing, New Jersey should prevail, but it will not be without a tough test from a Rangers team that can pile on offense and take advantage of what chances they do get.
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