The last time the Carolina Hurricanes faced off with the New York Rangers, it was opening night at PNC Arena, and the good guys emerged victorious by a 3-2 score. Tonight, the Canes venture into Madison Square Garden for the first time this season, and they will do so facing a slightly cooled off version of the Rangers, who have lost four of their last six contests.
The Canes will also see a different Ranger team than the one which greeted them just over a month ago in Raleigh. At that time, the Rangers were without Chris Kreider, but this go-around, the Rangers will be without Mika Zibanejad who is nursing a broken fibula and is not expected to return until the New Year.
Also, J.T. Miller, who is tied with Kevin Hayes for the Rangers’ points lead with 19, is expected to be a game-time decision with a sore knee. Needless to say, his status will be something to watch as the opening faceoff approaches.
For the rest of the Rangers, expect to see Henrik Lundqvist make his second appearance of the season against the Canes tonight. He allowed three goals on 21 shots in the first meeting, and has lost three of his previous four outings. In fact, his save percentage over his previous four outings is a very pedestrian .902. The Canes will certainly be looking to continue that trend.
Offensively, rookie Jimmy Vesey has slowed his quick start to the season, as he has only three points in his last 11 games. Hayes, who has vaulted to the top of the points list for the Rangers, rode a six-game points streak after the first meeting between the two teams, but has continued to contribute offensively at the best clip of his young career.
As a team, the Rangers entered the season with some thinking they may be on the down swing, with many aging players and younger players incapable of picking up the slack, but the first quarter of the season has proven otherwise as they continue to lead the Metropolitan Division with a 15-7-1 record.
As a team the Rangers continue to light the lamp, leading the NHL with 85 goals. They have been an average team so far in terms of goal against, as they have surrendered 57, good for 14th best in the league. On special teams, the Rangers are 9th in both power play and penalty kill, which continues to paint the picture of an overall sound hockey team.
For the Canes to emerge victorious in New York without Jordan Staal, they must continue to spread minutes between all four lines and take advantage of the goal scoring opportunities as they present themselves. The Rangers will create chances, and the numbers indicate they have a knack for converting. This will take a sound team-wide effort to beat a team that looks well on their way to a successful playoff-bound season at MSG.
What to Watch For
- Lundqvist has had issues of late. Look for the Canes to throw the puck on net as often as they can in the early going to try and test Lundqvist early.
- Look to see who Rangers coach Alain Vigneault attempts to get the Kreider-Stepan-Fast line out against with Jordan Staal sidelined. Does he try to get his “best” matchups for that line or the Grabner-Hays-Pirri or Zuccarello-Miller-Nash line? This strategy will be interesting.
- How will Bill Peters shuffle the lines with Jordan Staal out? Peters has tried many different combos, so don’t be surprised to see juggling even in-game tonight as he adjusts to life without arguably his top center.