Controlling the neutral zone is New York Rangers key to slowing down Devils

The New York Rangers will look to exact a modicum of revenge against the New Jersey Devils for ending their 2022-23 Stanley Cup aspirations very short.

Last spring, the Rangers blew a 2-0 series lead and fell in 7 games to their Hudson River rivals. After dominating the opening two contests, the Blueshirts had no response or game plan to slow the speedy demons through the neutral zone.

This led to the dismissal of head coach Gerard Gallant based on player exit interviews complaining of a lack of adjustments in that series.

Enter Peter Laviolette, who is as detailed oriented as they come implementing a 1-3-1 system meant to purposely own the neutral zone and cause turnovers. If the Rangers intend on dealing with fast teams this year and in the playoffs, they must continue to improve on their early-season success in the middle of the rink.

“They’re a fast team — they play fast,” said Laviolette. “We’re gonna have to be ready to skate, ready to compete, keep them in front of us…they’re high-octane, they throw a lot of pucks at the net, they defend pretty well, they play with pace.”

Related: Rangers vs Devils Preview

New York Rangers must control the neutral zone

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from playing with speed of their own, the Blueshirts will need to raise their battle level a notch. After a week off since their last contest, a 4-3 shootout win over Columbus, there’s no reason they can’t step it up.

That being said, the Rangers also need to play their 1-3-1 system to near perfection in order to slow players like Jesper Bratt and Jack Hughes down. Taking care of the neutral zone will minimize New Jersey’s ability to create chances off the rush, which was what undid the Rangers in the playoffs last season.

It’s the first real game against them since the playoffs,” Jimmy Vesey explained. “A team, going forward, that we might see again in the playoffs over the next few years. This is definitely a big marquee game on the schedule.” 

The Rangers enter tonight’s matchup atop the Metro Division with a 5 point lead over the second-place Washington Capitals. New Jersey sits in fourth-place 6 points behind the Blueshirts, meaning a regulation loss to New York widens that gap to 8.

Standings aside, the Rangers will be eager to start righting the wrong did to them in the postseason and make a statement that things will be different moving forward.

“The disappointment of last year sits with you for a long time,” Vincent Trocheck told THN. “It’s a long off-season to sit with that, and it kind of eats you up. Coming into this year, it’s a no bull kind of mentality.” 

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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