The New York Rangers continue their three-game homestand tonight against the San Jose Sharks. The Blueshirts are coming off a 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday, while the Sharks defeated the New York Islanders in overtime, 2-1, last night. Both teams have been playing well heading into Friday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden. Here’s a look at some storylines in our gameday preview.
2 Storylines: San Jose Sharks
After buying out goaltender Martin Jones’ contract last offseason, the Sharks signed James Reimer to a two-year deal during the summer. Reimer, who last played for the Carolina Hurricanes, decided to return to the franchise he played for in 2015-16. His play this season is one reason why the Sharks have been surprising despite preseason predictions, though their goaltending tandem, with Adin Hill, have evenly split starts.
Reimer has been one of the better goalies in the league through the first two months of the season. Among netminders with a minimum of 10 games, he ranks fourth with a .934 save percentage (SV%) and is fifth with a 2.11 goals-against average (GAA).
Hill has also fared well. In 11 games and 10 starts, he has a GAA of 2.74 and a .903 SV%. He was the starter in the Sharks’ overtime win against the New York Islanders on Thursday, with 24 saves. San Jose’s tandem has worked well this season.
The team had a 3-5-1 record in November after a shutout loss to the Washington Capitals on Nov. 20. But the Sharks closed out the month winning five of their remaining six games and continued their streak into December. Winning six of the last seven games has helped them remain in fourth place in the Pacific Division.
The Sharks are six points behind the division-leading Calgary Flames heading into tonight’s game against the Rangers. But only 11 points separate the Flames from the Los Angeles Kings, who are in sixth place. The Sharks have the benefit of playing in front of their home crowd during most of December. After they wrap up their road trip on Sunday, Dec. 5, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they play nine of their remaining ten games at the SAP Center.
2 Storylines: New York Rangers
Kreider The Great
Forward Chris Kreider has become a goal-scoring machine in 2021-22. The longest-tenured Ranger has 16 goals after his latest tally against the Flyers. He is tied with Flames forward Andrew Mangiapane for third in the NHL in goals, and he ranks among the elite players like Edmonton Oilers forwards Leon Draisalti (20 goals) and Connor McDavid (15 goals) and the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin (19 goals).
Kreider is showing no signs of slowing down in his 10th season. He has done more than his share to help put the Rangers in a position to make the playoffs. He has been the Blueshirts’ difference-maker and one of their leaders. At this point, it’s no longer a question of whether he will score but when and how many?
Gallant Succeeds in Shuffling the Lines
Not long after Sammy Blais was moved to the top line with Kreider and center Mika Zibanejad, he suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Head coach Gerard Gallant has been searching for the right balance through four lines in his first season behind the Rangers bench. After Blais’ injury, Gallant put forward Barclay Goodrow on the top line to see how that would gel.
Recently, forward Dryden Hunt was moved to the line with Kreider and Zibanejad while Goodrow was moved to the bottom six. Hunt has played well in the top six and contributed his third goal of the season against the Flyers with assists from Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox. There’s hope that the Cranbrook, British Columbia native, can maintain his level play on the top two lines moving forward.
Forward Kaapo Kakko has spent time on different lines as well. He was playing on the second line with Panarin before earning time on the top line. The young forward contributed two assists in the win against the Flyers and has a stat line of 3-5-8 over the last seven games after struggling to produce offensively earlier in the season and missing a few games with an injury.
The Rangers vs Sharks matchup should be an entertaining game between two teams that are playing well with reliable play from their starting netminders. The Sharks have split the starting duties evenly while Igor Shesterkin has done a fine job in net for the Blueshirts. The Rangers have back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow evening, so expect Alexandar Georgiev to start in net for one of these games.