May 14, 2012, 1:22 PM EDT
With the Devils and Rangers set to begin the 2012 Eastern Conference finals tonight at Madison Square Garden, PHT will be spending most of today breaking down the positional matchups.
New York Rangers
Overview: The Rangers have relied almost exclusively on the “big four” of Girardi, McDonagh, Staal and Del Zotto, though Stralman has been a nice surprise offensively, scoring three goals in 14 games after netting just two in 53 regular season contests.
Strength: Defensive defensemen. New York boasts three of the best in Girardi, McDonagh and Staal, who have combined to block 112 shots and thrown 94 hits this postseason. Ergo, it was no surprise to see Ottawa’s 35-goal man, Milan Michalek, held to just one tally in the opening round, or Washington’s two leading goalscorers (Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin) held to just two goals between them in Round 2.
Weakness: You’ve got to wonder about the wear-down factor. In addition to all the hits and blocked shots, Staal (356 minutes), McDonagh (384) and Girardi (387) have played more than anybody this postseason, roughly the equivalent of six full games each.
New Jersey Devils
Overview: Peter DeBoer is much more liberal in his allotment of playing time, though he leans on the veteran Zidlicky in a number of situations (notably on the power play). Adam Larsson appears to have solidified his spot in the top six — bumping Harrold to the press box — with a strong series against Philadelphia.
The blueline doesn’t score much, but has received surprising production from Salvador (2G-4A-6pTS).
Strength: As the numbers suggest, New Jersey has a very balanced blueline. Fayne and Greene are both solid, responsible guys 5-on-5 and, after a nightmarish start to the playoffs, Volchenkov has rebounded with some excellent penalty-killing work.
Weakness: This is not a physically overwhelming group. Zidlicky (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) and Greene (5-11, 190) are on the small side and Larsson (19 years old) can be overwhelmed by stronger opponents. Fayne — who goes 6-3, 215 — has exactly nine hits in 12 games played.
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