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Rangers V Devils


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The bad news for the Rangers coming into tonight's game against New Jersey at Madison Square Garden is that the Blueshirts have dropped three in a row.


The good news is that it isn't for a lack of offense. In fact, the Rangers are displaying exactly the kind of offensive prowess they lacked at points during last season.


For starters, the Rangers boast the NHL's goals co-leader in Brendan Shanahan, the league's points co-leader and assists in captain Jaromir Jagr. Both players are off to strong starts that far exceed what they have achieved this early in recent seasons.


Through five games, Shanahan has six goals. That's twice what he had through his first five games last year, when he went on to a 40-goal season with Detroit, and two more than Jagr had at this point, when he went on to set the Rangers record of 54 goals in one season.


Jagr, meanwhile, has 10 points in five games -- four more points than he had at this juncture last season, when he went on to shatter Jean Ratelle's 34-year-old single-season points mark.


As a team, the Rangers have 21 goals in five games -- an average of one goal per game more than they had a year ago at this time. The Blueshirts rank third in the NHL and are one of only four teams averaging four or more goals per game.


It's not just Jagr and Shanahan providing the scoring. Michael Nylander is off to a fantastic start with nine points, giving the Rangers three of the league's top five point-scorers. Newcomers Adam Hall and Matt Cullen are also big factors of offense, with two goals apiece.


So, scoring goals is definitely not a problem, and were it not for some recent defensive troubles, the Rangers would likely be one of the most feared teams in the league now. Still looking for the defensive rhythm they enjoyed last season, the Blueshirts have yielded 23 goals in their first five games, which is nine more than they allowed through the first five of 2005-06. If that tide can be turned, the Rangers have more than enough firepower to carry them to even greater heights than last year.


One factor that should bolster the defense tonight is the return of Darius Kasparaitis to the lineup. Last season, Kasparaitis played a key role in the Rangers' success. His hard-hitting style will be a welcome addition against a team known for sending slick, speedy forwards into the slot.


The Rangers have added incentive to clamp down defensively against tonight's opponent. Last April, the Devils swept the Blueshirts out of the playoffs, with the first-round series ending on the same ice where the rivalry resumes tonight. Just as many members of that Rangers playoff squad are back in blue this season, the vast majority of the New Jersey roster from last spring is also intact.


Traditionally, the Devils have based their game on outstanding team defense and goaltending from Martin Brodeur. This season, however, New Jersey has shown a bit offensive flair, putting up four goals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes on opening night in Raleigh, N.C., and six in their home opener against Toronto, which the Devils won in an overtime shootout.


New Jersey's offensive nucleus includes team scoring leader Brian Gionta, who has four tallies in four games, as well as Zach Parise (3 goals) and Scott Gomez (6 assists). Also in the lineup tonight will be Patrik Elias, the winger who single-handedly sank the Rangers' playoff hopes last April. In that four-game series, Elias had five goals and six assists. In Game 1 in New Jersey, he scored a whopping six points.


Several other familiar veteran Devils forwards, including Jamie Langenbrunner, John Madden, Sergei Brylin, and Jay Pandolfo, are no strangers to this cross-river rivalry. Added to the mix this season is 2004 first-round draft pick Travis Zajac, who made the Devils roster as a rookie. On defense, the Devils return Brian Rafalski, Colin White and Paul Martin and Brad Lukowich, who joined the team late in the 2005-06 season and appeared in all four playoff games against the Rangers.


Blueshirts goalie Henrik Lundqvist is expected back in the net tonight, following a start by Kevin Weekes in Buffalo on Saturday. Although Lundqvist struggled in the playoff series against the Devils due to a problem with migraine headaches, he went 2-0-1 against them in the regular season and allowed only two goals in his two victories at The Garden, where his save percentage was an eye-popping .953.


If Lundqvist displays the Garden magic he showed the Devils in the 2005-06 regular season, look for the pressure to come off the Rangers defense as the spotlight returns to an offense capable of manufacturing goals early and often.


STANDINGS: Devils - 6 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division Division. Rangers - 4 points, 2nd place (tied), Atlantic Division.


TEAM LEADERS: Devils -- Gionta , 4 goals and 7 points; Gomez, 6 assists; Brylin and Elias, 8 PIM each. Rangers – Shanahan, 6 goals; Jagr, 8 assists and 10 points; Jagr, 10 PIM.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 25.0 percent (6 for 24), 7th in NHL. Penalty killing: 89.5 percent (17 for 19), 5th. Rangers - Power play: 17.6 percent (6 for 34), 13th. Penalty killing: 75.7 percent (28 for 37), 26th.


GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (3-1-0, 1 SO, 2.70 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (0-0-0, 0, 0.00). Rangers - Lundqvist (2-2-0, 0, 3.95); Weekes (0-1-0, 0, 7.00).


2005-06 SEASON SERIES: Tied, both teams 4-3-1.


LAST MEETING: April 29 (Playoffs, Round 1); Devils 4-2. At New York. Jagr re-aggravated his shoulder injury just 53 seconds into the game, and although the Rangers took an early lead on a goal by Jed Ortmeyer, they gave up two goals in each of the next two periods -- ending their playoff run. Elias scored twice for New Jersey, which also got goals from Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.

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Devils with 5 power plays and they don't do shit/

They have one of the best Power Play units that I have seen. It is scary when Gionta,Elias, and Gomez are on the ice with a man advantage. It is almost like they know what one another are going to do before they do it, it is crazy they are very scary to watch.

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