Pre-Game: Dogfight In The Desert

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Opponent Blog: Howlin’ Hockey

The Rangers take on the Phoenix Coyotes (Jobing.com Arena, 8 PM EST) on the second stop of a bizarre three game road trip that sees them jet west from St. Louis to Glendale and then all the way back to Newark against the Devils on Tuesday night.

Following a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Blues on Thursday night, the Rangers take their seventh-best road record (9-5-2) into an arena that will likely include many transplanted or vacationing New Yorkers as they take on the Coyotes in the first of two matchups this season (they will also meet on January 10 in New York).

Phoenix enters this game following a 4-2 win at home over Edmonton on Thursday night. So far this season, they find themselves sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference with 35 points – tied with San Jose for second in the Pacific and two points behind first place Dallas. The Coyotes have gone 5-5 in their last ten and their other statistics reflect their somewhat-average start.  The most impressive stat they boast is probably the fact that they are tenth in the league in goals against (82).

Pregame info and keys to victory after the jump.

**UPDATE** Artem Anisimov is OUT for tonight’s game due to feeling sick, meaning Mike Rupp will play tonight. The projected lines below will certainly change as Anisimov was getting top line minutes while Torts shuffled the lines in the 3rd period of the St. Louis game Thursday night.

INJURIES: Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia) and Mike Rupp (knee) both practiced yesterday with contact jerseys and are questionable. Marc Staal (concussion), and Michael Sauer (concussion) are out and Sean Avery is a healthy scratch.

PROJECTED LINES:

Artem Anisimov – Derek Stepan – Marian Gaborik
Ruslan Fedotenko – Brad Richards – Ryan Callahan
Carl Hagelin – Brian Boyle – John Mitchell
Brandon Dubinsky – Erik Christensen – Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto – Anton Stralman
Jeff Woywitka – Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundqvist

KEYS TO VICTORY:

  • FORGET ST. LOUIS: Let’s face it – those disappointed at the lack of f-bombs by coach John Tortorella in the first episode of 24/7 will probably get their wish when the highlights of Thursday night’s game are aired. The Rangers were out-played in every facet of the game and if they continue to perform like they did in St. Louis, their stay near the top of the standings will be a distant memory. Some losses can build character, others need to be scrubbed from the face of the earth never to be mentioned again. Thursday’s game fits into the latter category.
  • HIGHLY OFFENSIVE: Since last Sunday’s four-goal explosion in the second period against Florida (probably the high point of the season thus far), the Rangers have managed just one goal in the seven periods since. Obviously that has to change. Phoenix goalie Mike Smith has had a respectable season so far (14-9-3, 2.53 GAA, .920 SV %) and is probably the biggest reason the Coyotes are two points out of first this year, but he’s not a world-beater either as his three stats prior to Thursday show (0-3, four goals given up in each game).
  • THE STRAL-MAN FOR THE JOB : Defenseman Anton Stralman was one of the very few highlights for the Rangers in Thursday night’s game. He logged a season-high 20:18 of ice time and was shifted from the third defensive pairing up to the second with Michael Del Zotto. He did a solid job of generating offense, was on the ice for Del Zotto’s goal, and actually managed to finish the game with a +/- of +1 – the only Ranger to do so. If he can carry some momentum over to tonight, it would be a huge help for the Rangers.
  • CONTAIN VRBATA: Would you believe Radim Vrbata is tied for fifth in the NHL in goals? It’s true. Vrbata’s 15 goals ties him with players such as Marian Gaborik, Kris Versteeg and Matt Moulson, as he notched his most recent goal in the second period on Thursday night. Phoenix doesn’t have considerable firepower other than Vrbata and Ray Whitney (10 G, 18 A) – their only two double-digit goal scorers. Hold them down, and a low-scoring game should be fairly winnable.

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Tags: Anton Stralman Michael Del Zotto Mike Smith New York Rangers Phoenix Coyotes Radim Vrbata Rangers

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