It was only five days ago that the Rangers came back from behind to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in their own building; a dramatic victory and surely an emotional one for Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko (both of whom scored) and John Tortorella. Tonight, the Rangers will host the Lightning in Madison Square Garden as they attempt to bounce back from only their second home regulation loss of the season against the Maple Leafs on Monday.
The Lightning have lost all of their last five games and are 3-7-0 in their last ten. On top of that, they hold a 4-10-2 record this season on the road. The Rangers have been handed a pretty prone opponent and an opportunity to prevent any losing momentum from building. That being said, the Lightning are not your typical “bad” team, as they have a whole array of weapons capable of overwhelming anyone. Let’s look at some pre-game notes and keys to the game:
No Michael Sauer: The Good news on Sauer is that his concussion has been termed day-to-day and thus should not miss any extended time. Still, it was a given that he wouldn’t be on the ice tonight. The Rangers lose a key defensive defenseman who usually logs 17-20 minutes in a game against an explosive offense, so the Rangers will need excellent efforts from McDonagh, Girardi, and Del Zotto tonight in the defensive zone. I can’t exactly say that I’m excited to see Stralman, Eminger, and Woywitka in the lineup at the same time, but I DO have faith that Eminger can pick his game up and that Woywitka can be responsible. Not much room for error tonight, though.
No Martin St. Louis: The Rangers will likely catch a break, though. During Tampa Bay’s morning skate today former Ranger Dominic Moore accidentally hit St. Louis in the eye with a shot. A tough break as he was expected to play his 500th NHL game tonight. We of course never celebrate injuries, but it is what it is; Martin St. Louis has 38 points in 39 career games against the Rangers and him not being on the ice makes Michael Sauer’s absence much more tolerable.
Power Play: This could be the deciding factor of tonight’s game; and for once that is in the Rangers’ favor. Tampa Bay’s PK (13th) is ranked lower than ours (11th) and their power play has struggled heavily, with only one goal in its last 14 attempts, and is ranked 22nd overall this season. Martin St. Louis not being in the lineup will not make it any easier for the Lightning. The Rangers, meanwhile, have scored at least one powerplay goal in each of the last six games. With Tampa Bay’s mediocre goaltending and lack of defensive depth the Rangers have no excuse for not extending that streak tonight.
Early Start: Much of this prolonged period of winning has been aided by active and productive starts to the game; the Rangers have usually been the better team in the first 10 minutes. However, the Rangers have given up the first goal in each of their last four games. At face value, it’s not much of a statement to say that an early lead is a good thing. But tonight it could matter more than others. The Rangers have the highest win percentage in the NHL when scoring the first goal of the game (.917%) while Tampa Bay is 19th in winning after giving up the first goal (.333%). We do not want to give a struggling Tampa Bay team any reason for momentum early on. I think there’s not much doubt that the Rangers will be the better team over a whole 60 minute span; the question for me is if they can prevent a small portion of time from ruining that.
Derek Stepan: It’s a small sample size, but Stepan has 3 goals and 2 assists in 5 career games against the Lightning. Here’s what I see as important, though; Derek Stepan scored the game winner in our last matchup against the Lightning, and the reason he was so open was because Marian Gaborik crashed the net and Pavel Kubina followed him, leaving Stepan open. Our top line has been good all around but it’s no secret that Gaborik is much more threatening than either Anisimov or Stepan. Can Derek (and Artie for that matter) take advantage of the fact that they won’t be seeing much attention?
Secondary Scoring: Victor Hedman is an excellent defenseman who will have a long, productive career in the NHL and whose presence should be respected.
And then there’s the rest of Tampa Bay’s defense:
Matt Gilroy, Brett Clark, Eric Brewer, Bruno Gervais, and Marc-Andre Bergeron
Clark and Brewer are reliable but are both past their primes and no longer particularly good defensively. I’ll take Woywitka and Eminger over any of the remaining three in the defensive zone. Especially with mediocre goaltending behind them, Tampa Bay’s defense is basically asking to be scored on. The Rangers are now a four line team and we shouldn’t have any issues getting offensive chances. I expect Hedman to be matched up with Gaborik, so there will be favorable matchups for pretty much every other line. If there was ever an opportunity for Brandon Dubinsky to rediscover his game and put up some points on the board, it’s tonight.
Goaltenders: Dwayne Roloson is in net for the Lightning tonight. Roloson has a 3.55 GAA and .886 save percentage and has actually been out-performed by his initially presumed backup Mathieu Garon. Again, goaltending will do no favors for the thin Tampa defense. The Rangers have no excuse for not scoring tonight. Lundqvist is in goal for the Rangers. Henrik is 14-7-4 in his career against Tampa Bay with a 2.10 GAA and .925 Save Percentage.
Sauer’s injury aside, this is pretty much an ideal matchup for the Rangers. Tampa Bay’s PP is awful and their PK is mediocre. Their missing arguably their most important offensive player in Martin St. Louis. Their defense is thin and will be without Pavel Kubina as well. And the goaltender with inferior play this far into the season will be in net. There is so much room for parody in the NHL and there’s no such thing as an easy opponent. Still, this is just about as winnable of a game as the Rangers will see this season. The last lost against Toronto was of course unfortunate but hardly unreasonable. A loss tonight would be much harder to justify.
Topics: Brandon Dubinsky, Brett Clark, Bruno Gervais, Derek Stepan, Dwayne Roloson, Eric Brewer, Henrik Lundqvist, John Tortorella, Lightning, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Martin St. Louis, Matt Gilroy, Michael Sauer, New York Rangers, Penalty Kill, Power Play, Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Victor Hedman