The surging New York Rangers cross the Hudson River looking to maintain their standing as the league’s top road team on Saturday when they face off with the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.
Following a 2-1 shootout victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Thursday, the Rangers (39-19-2) lead the NHL with 20 road victories this season, the third time in four seasons under head coach Alain Vigneault that New York has won that many away from home.
Excluding the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, the Rangers have won 20 or more road contests in six of the last seven seasons, including a franchise record 28 under Vigneault in 2014-15.
Article continues below ...
Entering Saturday’s contest in New Jersey, the Rangers have won nine of their last 11 games on the road.
“There’s not a home way to play or a road way to play, there’s just one way to play and that’s the right way,” Vigneault told reporters in Toronto. “We try and play the right way on the road, and at home. We’ve been fairly successful on the road and we want to continue that.”
In the Devils (25-25-10), the Rangers will face a club that has lost two straight and three of their last four overall. New Jersey is also a team that has not taken full advantage of a home-heavy schedule in the month of February.
Coming off a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday at the Prudential Center, the Devils are just 3-3-1 on home ice this month. They have two home games remaining, against the Rangers and Montreal Canadiens, before the calendar flips to March.
In all, the Devils play nine of their 11 games in February in New Jersey; and, yet, are further from a playoff spot now than when the month started.
“Our backs are against the wall now, and every game has got to be played like it’s the one that’s going to knock us out,” New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri said.
The Devils will be without talented 19-year-old rookie Pavel Zacha on Saturday. Zacha, recently promoted to the second line to play alongside Adam Henrique and P.A. Parenteau after recording nine points in 14 games, suffered a concussion Tuesday night.
“He made progress the past couple days in a good way,” Devils coach John Hynes said of Zacha. “We’ll start the protocol to get him back; but he’s definitely out Saturday.”
Zacha’s absence leads to Beau Bennett’s return to the Devils’ lineup. Bennett has just three goals and seven assists in 43 games this season, and only one goal in his last 12 games.
Cory Schneider will start in goal for the 10th time in the last 11 matches. The Devils’ No. 1 goaltender has allowed two goals or fewer in six of his last seven starts.
“It’s fun to have (the Rangers) here,” Schneider said to NorthJersey.com after practice Friday. “February, March games have a little more meaning. It ramps up the intensity of the rivalry a little bit more.”
On the other side, Vigneault confirmed Friday that backup goaltender Antti Raanta will get the nod against the Devils, only his third start since Dec. 29. Back on Dec. 11, Raanta made 19 saves while shutting out the Devils at Madison Square Garden, 5-0.
The Rangers will be without defenseman Kevin Klein for the second consecutive game because of a back issue. Adam Clendening will replace Klein in the lineup, and will play with rookie Brady Skjei on the third pairing.
“(The Devils) will be looking for a hard win, and we’ll be looking to match their intensity,” Skjei said to the Rangers’ web site. “We’re going to play to our skill and our speed, and get all over them.”