With the second month of the season coming to a close, the New York Rangers have found themselves moving in the right direction. They are currently sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division, only six points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for first. The injury bug finally seems to be over but the Rangers are still having some difficulty finding the back of the net. I still don’t think it is time to hit the panic button just yet, but if things don’t change on that front look for the Rangers to make a move to improve that aspect.
The upcoming week for the boys in blue is going to be a bit challenging. It isn’t so much that three out of the four are on the road (Rangers have won six straight away from the Garden), it has to do with the teams they are facing.
Monday November 25th @ Tampa Bay Lightning (14-8-1, 29pts, 3rd in Atlantic)
The obvious problem for the Tampa Bay Lightning is the absence of Steven Stamkos. The team’s leading goal scorer has been out of action since November 11th due to a pretty terrible leg injury. So far in his absence, Tampa Bay is 2-3-1 and are losers of four straight. Scoring isn’t their biggest problem right now. The Lightning have given up 18 goals in their last five games including three games in a row with five or more. This will be the perfect opportunity for the Rangers to get out of the NHL’s scoring basement.
Both Lightning goalies have been getting work as of late. Tampa has used an every other night type tandem during the latest drought. No telling who will be in net on Monday night but if the pattern continues it will most likely be Anders Lindback. Even with their losing streak, the Lightning are still in the top of the league in scoring which will be a nice test for the Rangers and their goalies.
Tampa is a tough team at home (8-2-0) so the Rangers will have their work cut out for them. If New York continues to work as hard as they have the past couple of weeks limiting mistakes and playing better on special teams, they should be able to escape with the victory.
Wednesday November 27th @ Florida Panthers (6-13-5, 17pts, 7th in Atlantic)
As the old adage goes, good teams find ways to beat the bad teams. That is certainly the case for the Rangers Wednesday night when they head to Miami to face the Panthers. Florida is the third worst team in the NHL ahead of only the Edmonton Oilers and the Buffalo Sabres. The Panthers have won only three games in their last fifteen and five in their last twenty. Wednesday night’s game will be the second of five at home for the Panthers after a 5-game road trip.
Struggling at both ends of the ice and special teams, the Panthers are at the bottom or near the bottom in all of the major categories. Brad Boyes leads the charge for the leagues 27th ranked offense with 8 goals. Defensemen Brian Campbell leads the team with 12 points. Tim Thomas has started the last 8 games for the Panthers (3-5-0), so it is unsure this far ahead if he will be between the pipes when the Rangers come to town.
A bright spot for the Panthers would have to be the play Alexander Barkov. Barkov was drafted 2nd overall in this year’s draft and has registered eleven points (5g – 6a) in 24 games in his rookie season. The Rangers need not be complacent when playing a team that is struggling as much as the Panthers. Leaving south beach with a win will boost their confidence and get them ready for the next two.
Friday November 29th @ Boston Bruins (15-6-2, 32pts, 1st in Atlantic)
A “Black Friday” special. The Rangers travel to Boston for their final game of the 5-game road trip on Friday to take on the Eastern Conference leading Bruins. These two teams locked horns on November 19th with the Bruins coming out on top by a score of 2-1. Games between these two original six teams are always entertaining because they really just don’t like each other.
Will either team have turkey hangover? That is the real question. Ok so it isn’t the real question. The real question is can the Rangers score any goals against the league’s best goaltending? That remains to be seen. Tuuka Rask has started all but four games for the Bruins so far this season and is proving his worth with 12 wins and a goals against average of 1.62 which puts him third in the league. The Bruins offense is powered by the players everyone loves to hate Milan Lucic who has nine goals. Lucic and David Krejci lead the team in points with 17.
This matinee will be on national television so everyone will have the chance to enjoy it (if they are home from shopping). I see this game going either way at this point but favoring the Bruins slightly. In the end great goal tending against a poor offense will win everytime.
Saturday November 30th vs Vancouver Canucks (12-9-4, 28pts, 5th in Pacific)
This will be the 112th meeting between these two teams all-time. The Rangers have had the upper hand (73-30-8-0) and have averaged over four goals a game against the Canucks. Lucky for Vancouver, the Rangers are scoring half as much per game this season. This is the first game at home after the 5-game road trip.
Polar opposites is an understatement when talking about Vancouver special teams. They are dynamite when they are down a man killing penalties over 89% of the time, but struggle with the extra man. They are ranked 28th in the NHL in powerplay percentage (11.5%).
The Sedin twins lead the charge when it comes to the Canucks offense. Henrik leads the team in points with 24 (6g – 18a) followed closely brother Daniel who has registered 21 points (8g – 13a) in 25 games. Roberto Luongo has made 21 starts so far for Vancouver (10-7-4, 2.30) and will most likely get the start when Canucks take to the ice inside Madison Square Garden.
It is going to be a difficult week for the Rangers as they have four games including back-to-back Friday and Saturday against two tough opponents. It should be a nice end to the second month of the season.