I thoroughly enjoyed the road to the Winter Classic and everything that came with it, so it is a bit of a letdown that it’s all over with (though we do have one more episode of 24/7 tonight). That being said, the ultimate goal was and always is to win the Stanley Cup, and the games from now until the end of the regular season count just as much. Tonight, the Rangers face off against the Florida Panthers at Madison Square Garden. Though the Rangers bested our Rangers in the first matchup of the season, the last two have gone in favor of the Blueshirts. In fact, gone in favor is putting it lightly, considering the Rangers have outscored the Panthers 10-2 in those meetings. The Panthers are 1st in their division, though that’s not as impressive when you look at their competition in the South East. They’re also a mediocre 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and are only 10-8-2 on the road this season, compared to their 10-4-5 home record. Let’s look at some game notes and what to look for.
Let-Down Game: If there ever was the potential for a let-down game in the history of the Rangers’ organization, it is tonight. The Rangers are coming off of a circus-like past few months and the marquee game of the season against the Flyers in the Winter Classic. Tonight, they face a non-divisional rival who isn’t particularly great but has extra motivation after our last matchup. Tonight will be a good test for this team. The Rangers have proven they can step up when in the spotlight and against heavy competition. Can they prove they can focus without being the center of attention in a non-divisional game?
Scott Clemmensen: Jose Theodore is out for a bit with a lower body injury, so Scott Clemmensen will be in net for the Panthers tonight. Clemmensen has an uninspiring 3.03 GAA and a .891 Save %. In the last matchup between the two teams, he got pulled after letting in three goals before the third period. In other words, get shots to the net and test him early. He has not reason to have any confidence going into this game but the Rangers are historically great at giving even the worst goaltenders early momentum. No reason to look for the perfect play tonight. Put shots on net and crash for rebounds.
Limit Penalties: The Florida Panthers are ranked 27th in the NHL in even strength goals but have the 12th best power play. This isn’t rocket science. Stay out of the box and the Panthers will have an incredibly difficult time scoring against any team, let alone a great 5 v 5 team like the Rangers. This is the kind of game where the Rangers are more likely to beat themselves than get outplayed. None of the dumb offensive zone hooks and trips tonight, please.
Martin Biron: It makes sense that Marty gets the start after the Winter Classic. Marty has been fantastic overall this season but didn’t have his best game in his last start against the Capitals, where he let in four goals on 23 shots. Going back to the potential for a let-down game, Henrik Lundqvist is The King of New York and can create momentum for the team like few ever could. It is unfair to expect anyone to live up to that standard, but can Marty play his part tonight and especially early in the game when the team might struggle to get its game going?
The lineup for the Rangers remains the same tonight, with Christensen, Wolski, and Woywitka as the healthy scratches. Along with Theodore, Upshall, Bergenheim, Skille, and Sturm are out with various injuries for the Panthers, and Krys Barch, who vowed revenge on the Rangers after the Del Zotto/Kopecky/Rupp incident, is suspended tonight for comments made to PK Subban. Make sure to check out our opponent’s blog, The Rat Trick.