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Preview: Rangers Cross the Hudson to Take on Devils

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at DEVILS, 7 p.m.
MSG 2, 970 AM

On the day he was traded to New York, Nov. 16, Ryan Strome was expressing his excitement to be coming to the Rangers as well as his hopes that the change of scenery could help him emerge from what to that point had been a frustrating year.

"I think the numbers are a little disappointing in the sense that I've played a lot better hockey than they show," Strome said in an interview that day with NYRangers.com. "I've been a little frustrated. A little bit snakebit."

Fast forward 4½ months, and Strome has wound up making this the best goal-scoring season of his career so far, which is a place that Strome on Sunday said "I never thought I'd be." That afternoon in Philadelphia, Strome scored for the third straight game and the fifth time in the last six, which gave him 18 goals on the season, a new career best. And it was a goal-scorer's goal, too: a snipe in open ice into the top corner of the net, beating Philadelphia's Carter Hart.

Strome has scored all but one of his 18 goals in 59 games since the trade, making him the league leader in goals by a player after being moved in a deal this season. The 25-year-old will get a chance for more when the Rangers visit the Devils in Newark on Monday night in a matchup of the youngest teams in the National Hockey League.

"In my own head I had a lot of adversity at the start of the season I think - starting off with one goal in my first 20 games or something like that is tough," Strome said. "Hockey is so much confidence - I never thought I'd be sitting at 18 at this point of the season. At the end of the day I think it's a reward of the hard work, and playing the game the right way.

"It's also growth, I think, when you see the slump I had at the beginning of the year, that I can pull out of it and have a good season. Moving forward, to me that's just confidence and learning how to handle those ups and downs better in my career."

He'll enter Monday night's matchup as one of the hottest goal-scorers in the NHL for two weeks running: since March 19, only two players - Rickard Rakell and Oliver Bjorkstrand - have scored more goals than Strome's five.

And he'll also be visiting a team against which he has done some damage this year. Since opening his season for the Oilers with a game against the Devils in Stockholm back in October, Strome has scored four times in his three games against New Jersey as a Ranger.

He saw immediate dividends on Sunday playing on a line centered by Brett Howden, who had his first career game with multiple assists and brings a three-game points streak (four assists) into Monday's game.

Strome's five goals over the last six games have come on 13 shots, a shooting percentage of 46.2. "My shot percentage is up right now but I haven't had as many shots as I'd like to have," he said, "especially playing the wing - on the wing you've got to kind of be a little bit more of a shooter, not a passer. So the last five, six, seven games on the wing just trying to shoot as much as I can. And guys are looking for me and being very generous with their passes."

"He's earned his role, first and foremost," David Quinn said. "He's a smart player, and I've said this before: This is a guy that has had 50 points in this league. We knew we were getting a good player, a guy that was capable of contributing offensively. I just thinks he's taken advantage of the opportunity, and he's also earned more of an opportunity for himself.

"He's got a good brain, he puts himself in a good position shift in and shift out, and he has a great personality, infectious in the locker room. There's a lot we like about him."

Henrik Lundqvist is slated to go in goal for the Blueshirts on Monday night, looking to add to his prolific career numbers against New Jersey. The goaltender has already picked up a pair of wins this season against the Devils to make it 38-17-8 in his career - eight of those wins by shutout - with a 1.99 goals-against average and .929 save percentage vs. New Jersey.

He had a helping hand in Mika Zibanejad the last time the Rangers crossed the Hudson - Zibanejad's second career hat trick powered the Rangers' come-from-behind, thriller of a 4-3 win on Jan. 31.

Racked by injuries this season - most notably to Taylor Hall (knee), last year's Hart Trophy winner who has been on IR since Christmas - the Devils have dropped 12 of their last 16 games (4-10-2). Monday's match will be their 2018-19 home finale.

New Jersey will also be without its leading scorer, Kyle Palmieiri, for Monday's game. After Cory Schneider stopped 24 shots in Saturday's OT loss to St. Louis, MacKenzie Blackwood will take his 20th NHL start and first against the Rangers.

NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers are the youngest team in the NHL, at an average age of 25.7. The Devils are the second-youngest, averaging 25.9.

Only three times since the Devils franchise moved to New Jersey in 1982-83 has one team swept the Battle of the Hudson in the regular season. The Rangers did it most recently, winning all four meetings on their way to the Presidents' Trophy in 2014-15. The Devils swept five games in 1998-99, while the Rangers took all six meetings in the 1993-94 regular season.

The Rangers won the last meeting between these teams, 4-2 at the Garden on March 9, after trailing 2-1 entering the third period. It was the first time in four seasons under John Hynes that the Devils had lost in regulation when leading after 40 minutes.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mika Zibanejad has eight points (3-5--8) in the Blueshirts' three meetings with the Devils this season, including his first hat trick as a Ranger in his team's other visit to Newark, on Jan. 31.

Kenny Agostino, the Morristown, N.J. native who grew up a Ranger fan, has eight points (3-5--8) in the last 11 games, beginning with an assist on March 9 at the Garden.

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