NEW YORK, NY - As the Devils face the Rangers for the second time this season, Interim Head Coach Alain Nasreddine knows this team is different since the last time these two clubs met.
"The last time we played them, there wasn't much conviction in our play, we didn't skate, we got out competed, they were the hungrier team," said Nasreddine. "That was awhile ago. We know how we're playing now, and how we need to play to be effective. Consistent game to game, period to period, shift to shift."
"We're playing more consistent, with our skating game, with some winning hockey, that's what we have to do here," said Nico Hischier. "It's going to be a fun game, a rivaly game."
Nico Hischier has emerged as a leader this season and Nasreddine is impressed by the forward.
"Leadership is not just about being vocal, it's showing that on the ice, that's the number one thing about Nico, but he's also been more vocal," said Nasreddine.
"Its an honor, if they trust you to give an A on the jersey, you're doing something right," said Nico Hischier. "Lead the way, go out there and be a leader. Do the right things, do the little things right, and not be afraid to say anything."
In addition to being a strong and consistent leader, Hischier is also consistent with a high level of play.
"[He's] making it hard on the defending team, playing well in the offensive zone, tough to contain," said Nasreddine. "He's very elusive but he's also strong, people don't realize it but he's strong in one-on-one battles. And that's on the offensive side. And then when you look at him defensively. He's extremely reliable."
Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes will not play tonight, but according to Nasreddine, they are close to returning.
"They keep getting better. They skated this morning. They're getting closer and closer again I've been saying this for awhile now, I don't think we expect it to be this long but they're inching closer and closer."
Mackenzie Blackwood will start in net for the Devils. Blackwood had a dental procedure yesterday after losing several teeth in Thursday's game against the Islanders.
"It's impressive, both physically and mentally," Nasreddine said about Blackwood's performance Thursday. "To lose teeth like that off of a pretty hard shot, and not only that, but stay with it, stay composed, he had to make a couple big saves after that. It speaks a lot about his character and determination."
Tonight's lineup is the same as the game against the Islanders:
Tonight's game is the third of four meetings between the two teams this season.
The Devils won the first meeting of the season between these clubs back in October by a score of 5-2. The Rangers returned the favor on November 30, winning 4-0.
Matt Tennyson is the only Devil with more than one point this season against the Rangers, with two assists.
Jesper Fast leads the Rangers with two goals. Three other Rangers have two points: Mika Zibanejad, Brady Skjei and Jacob Trouba.
Devils team scope:
The Devils have picked up at least a point in five of their last seven games (4-2-1) and seven of their last 10 (5-3-2).
Over the last 10 games, three Devils have been playing at a point-per-game pace: Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri and Nikita Gusev each have 10 points. Sami Vatanen has 9 points in that time, ranked tied for sixth in the NHL in scoring among blueliners dating back to December 18.
Rangers team scope:
The Rangers have struggled a little as of late with only four wins in their last 11 games (4-6-1) and had dropped three straight before a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.
Off-season free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin has been having an excellent season with 23 goals and 58 points. He ranks sixth in the NHL in points and ninth in goals.
Ryan Strome has been having a career season for the Rangers. After only 42 games, his 39 points is 11 away from his career high of 50 which was set when he was with the Islanders in 2014-15.
By the Numbers:
The Rangers have 44 points this season, three points ahead of their pace from last season. They also lead the NHL in penalty minutes per game with 11.9. Devils have the fifth most at 10.3.
Devils have won three straight games on the road. Rangers are 10-2-2 when leading after one period this season while Devils are 6-5-2.
Both the Devils and Rangers have collected 15 points in the standings since December 1: Devils are 6-8-3 and Rangers are 7-9-1.
Devils - Jack Hughes (upper body) is out; Jesper Bratt (lower body) is out; Mackenzie Blackwood (mouth) is probable
Rangers - Libor Hajek (knee) is day-to-day; Brendan Lemieux (hand) is out; Ryan Lindgren (upper body) is day-to-day