The New York Rangers will look to further secure a playoff spot tonight as they face the San Jose Sharks in their second consecutive 10:30 game. With the Columbus Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs doing the Rangers a favor and defeating the Hurricanes and Sabres tonight, the Rangers still hang on to a playoff spot by a thread. To help maintain it, the Rangers will have to beat one of the hottest teams in the league in their own arena, the San Jose Sharks. The previous game against Anaheim was a rare lifeless effort by the Rangers, and the quotes out of practice on Friday showed that a similar game was not in the plans tonight. The Rangers will have to stick to their word if they plan on having any chance tonight against the Sharks, who are third in the West and 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. That includes a 3-1-1 homestand that the Sharks conclude tonight. There’s reason for optimism, though. The Rangers seem to be a team that plays to the level of their competition, so it’s likely that they will, at the very least, give San Jose a tough time tonight.
Dirty Work- Thornton, Marleau, Heatley, Pavelski, Couture, Boyle, and Setoguchi. There’s no debate over who is the more skilled team. The Rangers are only going to succeed tonight by winning ugly. That means getting pucks deep. That means forechecking hard, an aspect of the game that was completely non-existant against the Ducks. The Rangers are first in the NHL in hits and third in blocked shots. The Sharks are in the bottom third in the league in both statistics. The Sharks will be no match for the Rangers in the hustle category, and the Rangers have largely overachieved this year by using that to their advantage against most teams. We saw the Rangers do the same thing to the Capitals, a significantly more skilled team, twice this season. The Sharks aren’t that soft, but if the Rangers sacrifice the body in the defensive zone and toy with the Sharks physically then San Jose is going to struggle to deal with the Rangers.
Full Team Effort- Marleau-Thornton-Setoguchi is one of the best first lines in the NHL and no doubt they will need to be especially stopped, but the Sharks are a complete team with three lines that can all put the puck in the net. Much like against the Capitals and Flyers, the Rangers will need everyone from the top to the bottom of the roster to be on their A-Game. All it’s going to take is for one line or one defensive pairing to not show up tonight and the Rangers will be down goals quickly.
Henrik Lundqvist- For the Rangers to come out early and dominate the Sharks in their own arena would be absolutely wonderful, but also completely unrealistic. Even if the Rangers come out active at the start, the most likely scenario is that the Sharks have the majority of the chances in the first 10 minutes of the game. Ultimately, that’s okay considering the team the Rangers are facing and the fact that it’s on the road. The Rangers are not going to win this game in the first 10 minutes. However, they certainly can lose it. That’s why Lundqvist is going to have to be ready, especially early on. As long as he can prevent San Jose from registering a goal early on, the Rangers will be okay. Lundqvist needs to give the team some breathing room to establish their game. I would love to be wrong, but the reality is that Lundqvist is probably not getting a shutout tonight. We just need him to not only make the routine saves but also make some big ones as well.
Pressure The Point- The Rangers have been given a bad break before the game even starts with Dan Boyle coming back from injury. The Sharks have quality defenseman aside from Boyle who can do damage in the offensive zone, too. Ian White is one of the better offensive defensemen in the NHL and already has 5 assists in his 9 games since being traded to the Sharks, and Jason Demers has 19 assists already this season from the point. The Rangers have made the mistake of giving the opposition’s point men time to make decisions with the puck, and specifically Lubomir Visnovsky made them pay last game. Can’t give a team like the Sharks time to work from the point.
Antti Niemi will be in goal for the Sharks. He’s had a solid season with San Jose but isn’t a goalie that should give the Rangers exceptional trouble. At least any more than any other goalie. Erik Christensen has been put in the lineup in favor of Sean Avery. Not sure I’m a fan of that decision. regardless, he’ll be on a line with Gaborik and Prospal, and given the bizarre chemistry Christensen has with Gaborik I at least understand what Tortorella is trying to do. Still, I kind of would prefer having Avery’s hard-nose game in the lineup tonight. The Rangers are 18-6-3 against San Jose all-time and 10-3-1 in San Jose. If nothing else, the team has a history of success against the Sharks. Let’s see if the Rangers put out the effort they promised.