In an hour, the Rangers and Devils will do battle at The Garden. It'll be the first meeting of six exciting regular season match-ups between the Hudson rivals. However, this one could have more scrutiny attached to it due to John MacLean's benching of company man Ilya Kovalchuk during last night's 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Sabres.
How will Kovalchuk respond? The better question probably is how the Devils will off this unexpected move which stunned the hockey world. In particular, social media who feed off these kind of things. As a blogger, I don't consider myself that important. I merely see this space as a way to express my feelings pro/con on our game. Did MacLean push the panic button by sitting out his megastar following a solid win in Montreal? Or was it the right move after a game in which the supposed new cornerstone didn't even register a shot in the team's second victory?
I'm old school. No player is bigger than a T-E-A-M. If that means making an example of Ilya, so be it. Somehow, bloggers like Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski have forgotten what their team concept has been. The Devils have always been group-serving, which explains all the success they've had spanning two decades. Perhaps Johnny Mac was simply saying to his team, 'Nobody is above the rules. If we don't shape up, it could be you next.' Even if it does seem urgent to do it in Game No.8 on a Saturday night at home stunning the Kool Aid drinkers, there's a strong message attached. While true no Anton Volchenkov and no Bryce Salvador have made the blueline a mess, there's enough talent to get by. However, if they're under performing which has been the case for most, you're not going to get results. As Hasan noted in his recap rant last night, the six-game road trip which begins tonight could make or break their season. Did we just type that? You have to figure they'll be plenty ready to go against the bitter Broadway rival.
While they try to get things sorted out there, the Rangers are coming off their best two games of the year, netting back-to-back road wins over Toronto and Boston. Both by a goal over improved Northeast competition. Last night, they held off the Bruins 3-2 thanks to a strong first period that saw both Artem Anisimov and Alex Frolov tally with one even coming via a nifty power play redirect by Arty. After Boston's Zdeno Chara sliced it in half with a screened five-on-three rifle past Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts got into penalty trouble but were able to get it done. Marc Staal came out of the penalty box and beat Tuukka Rask on a breakaway going backhand deke for the winner. A rarity that got chuckles. Lundqvist stood tall stopping 35 in a building he's had success in to notch the 'W.'
Why have the Rangers won two in a row? Because they're simply competing better as opposed to the first four games. They're winning battles and getting better defensive efforts from just about everyone, including Michal Rozsival who put together two consecutive big games. Can he carry it over at the unfriendly Garden? Will the fans allow it? Something Devil captain Jamie Langenbrunner alluded to with the fans all over Johan Hedberg last night. Sometimes, fans can be hostile and unfair. I hope Rozy has a good game. He's become our best penalty killer. Aside from him, Mike Sauer had a second straight strong game even making a nice pinch that helped setup Frolov's second. He really deserves to stay in and hopefully will get that chance.
It'll be Lundqvist versus Martin Brodeur, which is always a treat. Marty should be sharp having only worked relief last night while Henrik played a full 60 and made some outstanding saves. The rivalry isn't complete without Sean Avery, who got underneath Kovalchuk and David Clarkson's skin in a meaningless preseason game. For his part, Avery's playing some of his most inspired hockey thus far keeping the antics to a minimum while meshing well with impressive rookie Derek Stepan and Ruslan Fedotenko. He must stick to hockey.
So, who will prevail in this first match? The angry Devils or the happy Rangers. One thing's certain. There won't be any smiles once they take the ice.