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GAME DAY: Shesterkin Starts Again as Rangers Host Devils

Rookie Back in Net After Winning NHL Debut; Division Slate Heating Up

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. DEVILS, 7 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY

Two days after earning a win in his NHL debut, Igor Shesterkin will be given start Number 2 on Thursday night, because one good turn deserves another -- after the Rangers' pregame skate on Thursday morning, David Quinn was going through some reasons why Shesterkin would be handed a second straight start, but one stood above the others.

"He played well," Quinn said, "and I thought he deserved another opportunity."

Shesterkin made 29 saves on Tuesday night in the Blueshirts' come-from-behind victory over the Colorado Avalanche; on Thursday night he'll get his first taste of an NHL rivalry when the Rangers and New Jersey Devils come together for the first time at Madison Square Garden this season.

Shesterkin has actually seen the Devils once before, but that was in the Rangers' Sept. 18 preseason opener at the Garden, in which the 24-year-old rookie stopped 12 of 13 shots in playing the final 27:28 of a game in which both teams kept numerous top players out of their lineups.

Thursday night's game will have much more on the line: He and the Rangers will shoot for a fourth straight win on Garden ice as they kick off a stretch of four straight home games, and five of the next six games overall, against Metropolitan Division opponents. They have put together strong back-to-back efforts against tough Western Conference opponents -- Saturday's hard-luck loss to a Canucks team that had come in with a six-game winning streak, and Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Avs, the League's highest-scoring team -- and the recipe is, simply, more of the same.

"The last two games, I thought we've played a really good game all over the ice -- defensive, offensive, doing the right things with the puck and without the puck," said Jesper Fast, who set a career high with three assists in Tuesday's win, and also has scored in each of the Rangers' two meetings with the Devils this season. "So we've just got to keep playing the same way, and if we do that, we're going to win a lot of games going forward."

"I just really liked the way we've approached our last two games," Quinn added.

To that end, the Head Coach will make no changes on Thursday to how his 20 players lined up Tuesday. He had to adjust in-game against Colorado when Ryan Lindgren was held out from the final two periods for precautionary reasons; Lindgren has nothing holding him back from Thursday's game. 

Without Lindgren on Tuesday night, Quinn leaned even more heavily on his top pair of Brady Skjei and Jacob Trouba, and Skjei wound up playing 27:12, his career high for a 60-minute game. He also scored his sixth goal of the season, on a long slapshot in the second period that gave the Rangers their first lead of the night -- and he came close to one or two more goals.

"Brady and I were just talking about it: I think his last two games have been arguably his best games of the year," Quinn said at Thursday's AM skate. "I really like the way he's defended, I like the way he's moved pucks. This day and age, everybody judges their game by offense, and I think every defenseman wants to get involved offensively -- we certainly encourage our guys to do it, and based on our results we, we are good at it. But I think that comes instinctively and naturally to our D corps.

"So I think if we approach every game with a defensive mindset where we're going to be committed to playing defense like he and Trouba certainly have the last two games, the offense just happens. He scores a goal from the blue line on a 60-foot shot; there wasn't any wasn't forcing it, it just happened. I think if we all take that approach, you're going to get the type of game we've played over the last eight periods."

One player who did not suit up in the teams' Sept. 18 preseason meeting was Taylor Hall, who has become a major part of the changes these Devils have made since the teams' most recent meeting -- Alexandar Georgiev's 33-save shutout in Newark behind two shorthanded goals back on Nov. 30. The Devils dismissed Coach John Hynes just three days after that 4-0 Ranger victory in New Jersey, replacing him on an interim basis with one of his assistants, Alain Nasreddine.
Less than two weeks later, Hall, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner, had been shipped to Arizona for a package of picks and prospects, ending Hall's tenure in Jersey after two-plus seasons.

The Devils lost their first five games under Nasreddine but are 6-3-2 since.

MacKenzie Blackwood could see an eighth consecutive start for Nasreddine's team, after enduring a rough day to make his most recent one: After feeling under the weather on Tuesday morning, one of the 18 second-period saves he made that night against the Islanders caught him in the goalmask and knocked out teeth. He continued playing and finished with 37 saves, while the Devils let a late lead slip and settled for one point out of a 4-3 overtime loss.

Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri each had a goal and an assist in the game. The Devils did not hold a morning skate Thursday, but Jack Hughes is expected to sit out his fourth straight game with an upper-body injury.


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
21 Howden -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
42 Smith -- 14 McKegg -- 29 Fogarty

76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox

31 Shesterkin
30 Lundqvist

DEVILS
17 Simmonds -- 13 Hischier -- 21 Palmieri
20 Coleman -- 19 Zajac -- 97 Gusev
90 Boqvist -- 37 Zacha -- 44 Wood
36 Street -- 16 Rooney -- 15 Hayden

6 Greene -- 76 Subban
28 Severson -- 45 Vatanen
8 Butcher -- 25 Mueller

29 Blackwood
70 Domingue


NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers are 8-1-1 against the Devils at the Garden in the last five seasons, outscoring New Jersey 35-16 in those 10 games.

The Rangers are 7-1 in their last eight games within the Metropolitan Division. Five of their six games leading up to the All-Star break are division games, four of those coming on Garden ice.

The Blueshirts are one of eight teams to score multiple shorthanded goals in a game this season; they did so on Nov. 30 in Newark.

Fil Chytil is one of five Rangers in double-digits in goals this season, and one of only two players age 20 or younger in Rangers history to score 10 or more goals in two separate seasons, along with Troy Mallette in 1989-90 and 1990-91.

With the Rangers' first goal on Tuesday, Chris Kreider has seven goals and 14 points over the last 14 games.

New Jersey's game against the Islanders on Tuesday was only the second game in NHL history in which the sole penalty called in the game was assessed to a goaltender -- in this case a hooking call to Thomas Greiss of the Islanders, which the Devils converted. The Devils have been shorthanded just five times in the last three games and killed all five penalties.

Only the Red Wings (96) have scored fewer than that Devils' 107 goals this season. New Jersey has been shut out five times (once by the Rangers), tied with Calgary for most in the League.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mika Zibanejad has 10 goals in the last 12 games. He had a goal and an assist on Tuesday during his 25:32 on ice, matching a career high for a 60-minute game. Zibanejad has 10 points in his last six games against New Jersey. 

Nico Hischier has eight points (3-5--8) in his last six games; his 26 points are second on the Devils behind Kyle Palmieri's 30. Hischier has a goal and five assists in eight career games against the Rangers.

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