The New York Rangers start their tour of California tonight as they face the Anaheim Ducks for the first time this season. The Rangers, of course, are coming off two big wins against the Senators and Flyers, and will look to extend their winning streak tonight. The Rangers got some help in the standings with Buffalo, Toronto, and New Jersey all losing last night, so the Rangers have an opportunity to give themselves a bit of breathing room in the standings. To do so, they’ll have to beat the Anaheim Ducks, who are all the way down at 12th in the Western Conference, though they are only two points out of a playoff spot. Thus, despite it being an intra-conference battle, the fact that the game is so close to the end of the season and both teams desperately need to win should lead to a physical and competitive game tonight. The Rangers are proving to be road warriors this season, but Anaheim can match that with a 20-11-2 home record. Both teams have nearly identical records against the other conference; the Rangers are 10-6-1 vs. the West while Anaheim has a 10-6-0 record against the East. Thus, there aren’t going to be many inherent advantages to the game tonight for either team. Lets look at the keys to the game:
Henrik Lundqvist- Lundqvist will be making his 13th straight start tonight, and Tortorella doesn’t appear to be ending that streak any time soon. Though the Rangers have done more than enough in terms of getting on the scoreboard the past two games, don’t let that mislead you into thinking that Lundqvist was simply an accessory. He has made every single big save that he has had to. He’s bailed the team out, especially on the penalty kill, and did not give either team any momentum to get back into the game. The Rangers will need a similar effort from Henrik tonight. Lundqvist is 2-1 against the Ducks in his career, with a 2.36 goals against average and .904 save %. A similar stat-line tonight would do the Rangers wonders.
Dan Ellis- In the other net tonight will be Dan Ellis for the Ducks. Jonas Hiller, who has had an incredible season and is the biggest reason the Ducks are anywhere close to playoff contention, has been battling vertigo, so he will be unavailable tonight. Thus, the Ducks will be going with Ellis, who was acquired from the Lightning at the trading deadline as a temporary fix to Hiller’s absence. After a mediocre showing with Tampa Bay, Ellis has started off relatively well with the Ducks, going 3-1-1 in his 5 starts with a 2.31 goals against average and a.905 save %. Still, Ellis is nothing more than mediocre. The Rangers need to take advantage of Anaheim’s spotty goaltending situation. Ellis played against the Rangers earlier in the year when he was with the Lightning, and was not too great during regulation, though he was good enough in the shootout to help Tampa get the win. He let in 3 goals on 37 shots.
Penalties- I decided to look up the Rangers’ penalty minutes this season, and excluding fighting majors, the Rangers have the 12th most penalty minutes in the NHL. While that certainly could be worse, it still isn’t good enough, and similar infractions tonight could cost them. Anaheim has the 4th best powerplay in the NHL and the 3rd best home powerplay. The Rangers can’t afford to give the lethal Ducks powerplay many chances. Any penalties in the offensive or neutral zones are unacceptable.
Ducks 1st Line- Most teams’ top line is going to be their best by a wide margin, but this is possibly more true for the Ducks than any other team in the NHL. Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry forms one of the best first lines in the NHL, but especially if Saku Koivu, who is a game-time decision, doesn’t play, the Ducks will have little offensive talent elsewhere other than Teemu Selanne. Staal and Girardi have a huge task tonight in shutting down Anaheim’s big three.
Ducks Bottom 6- Conversely, the Ducks’ bottom six is severely lacking in offensive ability. The Ducks’ third line has a grand total of 7 goals combined this year, and the 4th line is even worse. The Rangers clearly lack top offensive talent aside from Gaborik, but every single forward on the roster is capable of producing offensively. The Rangers need to take advantage of this. A consistent offensive effort needs to be achieved by all four lines tonight. If that happens, then Anaheim will not be able to match us shift by shift.
With the game being in California, it’s a late 10:30 PM start. For a rare time the Rangers are virtually fully healthy, aside from Biron of course. Christensen is expected to be the healthy scratch at forward, and Eminger will be sitting again as well.