After sleeping on things Friday night before making a final decision, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has opted to stick with the same six defensemen who played in Wednesday's 2-0 victory over the Capitals when the Blueshirts skate against the Devils Saturday night at the Prudential Center. That means Justin Falk will play in his third straight game while Michael Del Zotto will be a healthy scratch, after having been scratched in Washington due to the flu.
"Michael was sick, and we went into Washington and played our best game of the year as far as a group of six defensemen, so nobody deserved to come out (of the lineup Saturday)," explained Vigneault following Saturday's morning skate. "That's why I am sticking with the same six guys."
Del Zotto, who admitted on Saturday to not being happy with his own play to start the season, said he is completely healthy and does not feel he is being singled out by the new coach for the team's defensive struggles on their season-opening road trip. The 23 year-old defenseman has been held without a point and is a minus-six through five games played so far this season.
"You always want to play," Del Zotto told reporters after doing extra on-ice conditioning with Carl Hagelin and back-up goaltender Jason Missiaen at the Prudential Center. "You work this hard your whole life to play, not to watch, but the decision was made and there's nothing I can do about it. I had a good practice today, some good hard work. And I'll come back at it tomorrow. I'll cheer my team on tonight and hope for another win."
Falk is scoreless in two games, after being scratched in the first four. He has totaled nine penalty minutes, including a fighting major from Wednesday night when he dropped the gloves with Washington's Tom Wilson. After playing just over five minutes last Saturday in St. Louis, Falk logged just under nine minutes of ice-time against the Capitals while paired with John Moore.
"We had a big win last game against Washington and the team played well," reasoned Del Zotto, who led Rangers defensemen with 21 points in 46 games a year ago. "(Vigneault) did not see a need to switch the lineup. It's his decision, and I'm just going about my business like every day, working hard and trying to get better."
There will be two depleted ineups this evening when the Rangers and Devils meet up. The Rangers will be without three of their key forwards who are all injured---Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, and Carl Hagelin---while New Jersey will definitely be without former Blueshirt Ryane Clowe and could possibly play without Patrick Elias and Damian Brunner, as well.
Elias, who has two goals and four points this season, did not take part in the Devils morning skate because of the flu and is likely not going to play against the Rangers. Brunner, the former Red Wing who leads the Devils with three goals, left the ice early this morning and did not speak with reporters after his team's skate. The Devils said a game-time decision will be made on Brunner.
Should both forwards not be able to play, New Jersey would likley move defenseman Peter Harrold into a forward position, while also dressing young defenseman Adam Larsson who was to be scratched this evening.
As for the Rangers moving ahead now without Callahan, who broke his thumb in the final minutes of Wednesday's win in Washington, Derick Brassard offered, "Cally kills penalties, blocks shots, throws his body around, goes to the net, scores goals, basically he does everything on the ice and that's why he's our captain. But we have depth and the guys will have to play their roles, and we will need to keep our focus and build on the good things we've been doing, even without him in the lineup."