Mar 24, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center Dominic Moore (28) attempts to backhand a shot around Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek (4) during the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Time: 8:00 pm
Location: Gila River Arena
Tonight’s matchup between the New York Rangers and Arizona Coyotes already has the making to be something special. If the Rangers win tonight, coach Alain Vigneault will join an elite club (consisting of only 21 people) for 500 wins as an NHL coach. Said AV, “I do understand that 500 is a lot of wins and I’ve been very fortunate to have coached some real good players, have had some real great assistants working with me, and I’ve always had the support of management.” It’ll be up to Cam Talbot, yet again, to deliver his coach that milestone win with Henrik Lundqvist still sidelined. He hasn’t played as well as fans would like, but he is still a respectable 3-1-1 since taking over. Mats Zuccarello has been heating up, at an ironic time per say, with 9 points in his last 7 games. Not to mention he essentially bailed out Talbot and the Rangers in Toronto the other night. With each passing game, more and more pressure has been piling on the shoulders of the slumping Martin St. Louis. Has time finally caught up with him or is he just experiencing another scoring funk similar to when he first came over from Tampa Bay? The good news is that St. Louis (no goals in the last 14 games) has a good chance of registering at least a point tonight. He has six goals, seven assists in his past 11 games against Arizona with three goals and three assists in the last four contests. After “winning” the first period against Colorado and not looking back, the Rangers now have an NHL best record of 19-1-2 when leading after one period. They’ve also scored 28 goals over the past seven games and 11 skaters have found the back of the net at least once.
Fans will get a closer look at potential trade target Antoine Vermette tonight, unfortunately not Martin Hanzal, as he may be lost for the season due to a back injury. The Coyotes are also without their Danish sensation Mikkel Boedker, who really looked promising before going down with a spleen injury. Nevertheless, Arizona is getting better in the injury department, with center Joe Vitale returning for the first time since suffering a lower body injury on the 27th of January. At home, the Coyotes have lost six straight and are 9-14-4 on the year in “the desert”. Their last game against the San Jose Sharks sort of personified the type of season they’ve had. After dominating the first stanza, a hat trick from Joe Pavelski and three assists from “Jumbo” Joe Thornton propelled the Sharks to victory. “I thought we battled hard,” coach Dave Tippett said. “We just couldn’t come up with that next goal we needed.” Their rock, goaltender Mike Smith, standing at 6’3 216 lbs, has always given the Rangers fits. Tonight is a back-to-back start for him, as well as his seventh straight game between the pipes.
Players to Watch
Rick Nash, New York Rangers. If someone told you last year Rick Nash would be having an MVP Caliber season and well on his way to having a 50 goal season you’d tell them to wake up and smell the roses. However, just that is a reality for the shifty Canadian power forward. He has six goals in his past seven games and a league leading 34 tallies on the year. He has gotten a point in 21 of 26 career games against the Coyotes, and 11 points in his last 14 games.
Keith Yandle, Arizona Coyotes. Rumors have been swirling that Yandle’s days in the desert are numbered, but he has continued to play at a high level. He has 10 assists in his past nine games, giving him 36 on the year, which leads all defenseman. His +/- is atrocious, however, at -23, but that may be more of a testament to the Coyotes’ defense and back checking as a whole. Tonight, he’ll be in charge of stopping New York’s onslaught but in turn, the Rangers have to be wary of him jumping in on an offensive rush.