New York Rangers (39-29-4, 3rd in the Metropolitan Division) versus Phoenix Coyotes (34-26-11, 4th in the Pacific Division)
Puck Drop: Monday, March 24 at 7:00 pm EST
Venue: Madison Square Garden- New York , NY
Tonight’s matchup is an East versus West showdown, as the Phoenix Coyotes visit Broadway. This will be the second and final time these two teams meet before the end of the regular season. Back on October 3rd, the New York Rangers visited Glendale, Arizona as part of their West Coast road trip to open up the regular season. Unfortunately, they were on the losing end of a 4-1 game. Fast forward to now, and the Rangers are a different team from their earlier meeting. The team has gone undefeated in their previous three game road trip. They are currently third in the Metropolitan Division, three points ahead of the Washington Capitals and one point behind the 2nd place Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers are 16-16-4 at home, but are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.
Tonight, Henrik Lundqvist is in net once again. This seems to be a recurring theme, but he will be leaned on heavily for a playoff berth. On their recent road trip, Lundqvist reached two milestones, all time wins and shutouts in Rangers’ history. He is on top of the mountain. Entering tonight’s affair, he is 28-22-4 with five shutouts, which is one behind the league leader, Montreal Canadians goalie Carey Price. He is riding a three game win streak, as he started all the games on the road. Doubted by some in the Rangers’ fanbase, and scrutinized by critics for his slow start to the season, he is showing all of us why he is worthy of being called “The King”.
To ease things off Lundqvist’s shoulders, the offense is starting to show up. Namely, Rick Nash. He leads the team in goals with 23. He has three goals in the past three games and he is starting to heat up. If we see the same Nash from the previous road trip, the division needs to prepare themselves. A big, bad Nash is good news for the Rangers, bad news for everyone else.
Derek Stepan is again garnering attention. He is currently one point ahead of Mats Zuccarello for the team’s lead in points with 50. Also, he leads the team in assists with 35. In his five games, he has 3 goals and 5 points, while averaging a +1 goal differential. He is one point away from tying his career high of 51 set in the 2011-2012. Tonight he will be a game time decision as he is suffering from the flu. Others in question are Derek Dorsett and Martin St. Louis also with flu. John Moore remains out from “concussion-like symptoms”.
On defense, the team has held opponents to two, or fewer, goals in seven of their last nine games. Ryan McDonagh is on a three game point streak with three points, one of which is a goal. He leads all defensemen with 12 goals, 27 assists, and + 7 goal differential. He is making a strong case for the captaincy for next season.
With 10 games left, it’s time to bear down. The Coyotes are looking for wins and points to secure a playoff spot in the West. They will come out hungry and desperate. The Rangers need to play like they have been the past four games. Keep pressure on their opponent, skate fast, and play smart. If they do this, the ice will tilt in their favor.