Devils and Rangers Seek Opposite Goals By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/TheNYExtra.com
“(You) have to keep it in perspective,” Miles Wood said this morning. Of course, Wood was talking about his continued progress coming back from hip surgery and how it has affected his play in the few games he’s seen action in.
However, his words are applicable to another situation. Tonight, the Devils will host the Rangers in their fourth and final meeting of the season and the teams have opposite agendas.
For New Jersey, the young Devils want to end their season on a high note; albeit knowing they won’t be playing in the playoffs. As Wood put it, “skill-wise, it’s there. But we have to start to win games.” It’s been that type of year for the Garden Staters. There’s been bright spots for sure, like Jack Hughes’ ascension to stardom. But there’s also been low points, like Wood missing most of the season while recovering from hip surgery.
“I had surgery four months ago,” said Wood, who returns to the lineup tonight after missing two games for maintenance purposes. “I’m the fastest player to come back (from this type of surgery). (Nikita) Kucherov came back in like six months…I’m not sure how the rest of the year will play out…I didn’t want to leave this year without getting in a game.”
It’s mission accomplished for Wood in that regard, but the Devils need to know what type of player he’s going to be once he’s fully healthy. After all, Wood is a pending RFA with arbitration rights. Could the team look to lock him up long-term? It’s possible. The more likely scenario sees Wood sign a one-year “pillow” contract to rebuild his value and then become a UFA after next season.
Granted, Wood isn’t the only question mark for New Jersey. The team is currently awaiting the results of Jack Hughes’ imaging tests to determine the precise nature of his lower-body injury. Those should come this afternoon. Either way, Hughes won’t be playing tonight and there’s no denying the hole that creates in the Devils’ lineup.
“It’s next man up,” said New Jersey’s Head Coach Lindy Ruff. “There’s always players begging for more power-play time. (Jesper) Boqvist’s line’s ice-time will go up.”
That’s one way to help fill the void created by Hughes’ absence. However, with the way the Devils have played of late that void is still going to be pretty large. “I don’t know if you can put a number on any of our lines right now,” said Ruff. The reason for that is because none of the Devils’ lines have stood out or played particularly well. That needs to change, especially if New Jersey wants to earn the same result tonight that it did when it last played the Rangers – a victory.
On the opposite side of the ice, the Rangers are in a bit of a slump, having dropped their last two games. With the playoffs approaching and their seeding not yet locked up, New York wants to get back on track so it can obtain home-ice advantage for its first-round matchup; likely against the Penguins.
To do that though, the Blueshirts need to get healthy.
Ryan Strome is a game-time decision according to Head Coach Gerard Gallant. Should Strome play – he skated with the team this morning – then that will allow Andrew Copp to shift back to right-wing to complete the line of Artemi Panarin-Strome-Copp.
Meanwhile, Kaapo Kakko and Kevin Rooney remain out with no clear timetable to return – although they both skated this morning.
In addition to getting healthy, the Seventh Avenue Skaters will also need to stop attempting to make “cute plays” as Gallant put it. “When you’re tired mentally, you make those plays. And we’ve been tired,” explained Gallant. “They’re (New Jersey) going to force you to make mistakes.”
For the fourth time this season the Hudson River Rivals will clash. One team wants to build its confidence for next year. The other wants to get back on track before the playoffs begin. Two teams. Two different agendas. Only one can succeed tonight.