The New York Rangers are facing the Los Angeles Kings tonight in a cross-conference battle at Madison Square Garden at 7:00 ET. The Rangers are looking to start a winning streak after getting their first win in seven games last Sunday against the Penguins. With Carolina and Buffalo both losing last night, the Rangers have an opportunity to widen the gap in the standings a bit more. To do so, they will have to beat a young team also fighting for a playoff spot in the Kings. After an outstanding start to the season in which they won 12 of their first 15 games of the season, the Kings have fallen off since then and are now 9th in the Western Conference. However, they have won their last 3 games and are 8-0-2 in their last 10. Both teams are playing for a win they both could use so I expect a competitive and active game tonight. Let’s look at the game notes:
Wolski/Newbury- Wolski practiced yesterday, and while his skating was fine he was unable to shoot the puck without feeling discomfort in his rib muscle. Tortorella ultimately made the decision to sit him tonight, not willing to risk Wolski being unable to play “after only five shifts.” As a result, Kris Newbury has been called up. Newbury is by no means a liability in the defensive zone, is solid on faceoffs, and works hard. He showed that he is capable of fitting into whatever role Tortorella asks of him. That being said, the Rangers are going to miss Wolski. Wolski was on the point against Pittsburgh on the pwer play, which was very successful. That’s also of course less scoring depth on the wing tonight. However, it will give Sean Avery an opportunity to earn more minutes as well as give Mats Zuccarello an opportunity on the power play, as he will be Wolski’s replacement on the point.
Update: Looks like Wolski did enough today to convince Tortorella he’s healed enough to play tonight. Let’s see if how he plays in spite of the injury. Hopefully he doesn’t make it worse.
Henrik Lundqvist- Lundqvist will be getting his third straight start tonight. Lundqvist has been good but not great in his return from sitting out. It would be nice if he could be at his best tonight. Los Angeles’ offense has underachieved the whole year and is a threat to pile in the goals at any time. This is a game where the Rangers are likely going to live and die by Henrik’s play. That could be said for almost every night for sure, but Los Angeles has scoring on every single line as well as on their top two defensive pairs. Henrik is back to being the man in goal, so he needs to prove he deserves it.
Early Start- The Rangers’ tendency to give up early leads and/or go into the third period losing has been well documented on this blog. They absolutely can not afford to pull that off tonight. Los Angeles is 10th in the NHL in wins when scoring the first goal and are undefeated when going into the third period with a lead. This is a game where the Rangers need to get the first goal.
Marian Gaborik- Gaborik has been much better the past two games. Hopefully he can play well again tonight. Gaborik has been a beast against the Kings in his career, with 18 goals in 26 games against them over his career. In his two games as a Ranger against them he scored one in each, including one of the best goals of his career. Especially with Wolski out, Gaborik needs to have a good game. The Kings have a great defensive core and though Jonathan Bernier has been inconsistent this year he does have the ability to steal games.
Ryan Smyth- Smyth has eight power play goals this year, and most presumably came with him standing in the slot. Though they’ve been better this year than in years’ past, the Rangers have had a problem clearing the slot. If they let Smyth go untouched then it’s going to be a long night. Michael Sauer and and Marc Staal have the size to match up with him, and while Staal will be able to do that on the power play he’s going to be matched up with Kopitar at even strength. Sauer is probably going to be called upon to do the job against Smyth.
Michael Del Zotto- And the carousel on defense continues, with Eminger becoming the healthy scratch again while Del Zotto is inserted back into the lineup. At this point in time I think it’s all but inevitable that Del Zotto is sent down to Connecticut if and when the Rangers acquire another defenseman, but he needs to start developing some consistency in his game, both for the Rangers’ sake short term as well as his own sake for the long term. It’s not even a guarantee that he gets power play time tonight, though I do imagine he will if he starts the game confidently.
After 3 days off, the Rangers are playing their first of three games in the next 72 hours tonight. They need to establish the tone for the upcoming games and play hard but also produce on the scoreboard.