The New York Rangers were utterly embarrassed in Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, just a night after they played a strong team game in a 3-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That's what you would consider "streaky", and as of late that's exactly what the Rangers have been. You may think that a span of three games shouldn't be considered "streaky", but by the Rangers' standards, with how often they have put together strings of wins this season, I think they would all agree that they haven't been consistent for a short while now. New York will look to turn that around tonight when they kick off a tough week on the schedule against the Nashville Predators.
One thing the Rangers have been very good at this season is rebounding after tough losses, and without a doubt Sunday's defeat was tough. The Blueshirts will be returning home to Madison Square Garden tonight after a short eastern Canada road trip, so there's no excuse for yet another lackluster performance this evening. This team knows very well that they cannot afford to slip in the second half of the season, so now is the time to fix things before it becomes too late and they find themselves in the usual scramble for a playoff spot.
The Blueshirts have their work cut out for them, though, as they will face three strong opponents over the course of the next week. It all begins tonight when the Predators come into town riding high on a five-game winning streak. Their most recent came just yesterday afternoon out on Long Island, where they defeated the Islanders, 3-1, after scoring back-to-back-to-back goals early in the first period. The Preds have been one of the hotter teams in the NHL and are sure to put up a fight against the Rangers in this one.
Nashville is a difficult team to defend, because much like the Rangers, they get scoring from a wide variety of sources. Funny enough, defenseman Shea Weber is the team's leading scorer with nine goals and 32 points. Behind him are forwards Martin Erat and David Legwand with just 30 and 28 points respectively. As head coach Barry Trotz put it, his team may not have any 40-goal scorers, but they have plenty of 20-goal scorers. They get production from their entire lineup top-to-bottom.
From a Rangers standpoint, it's time to get back to basics after a confidence-depleting loss like Sunday's in Montreal. They need to forecheck, they need to hit, and most importantly, they need to defend and defend wisely. If it were not for all of the mental mistakes made in the second period of that game, the Blueshirts may not have found themselves in such a hole going into the third stanza. I'm sure that was addressed in the video room between coach Tortorella and his players.
The Rangers also need a better showing from their top players, beginning with Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. I spoke about Richards’ inconsistency in an article I wrote yesterday, but just to reiterate, he’s hit quite the stalemate recently. Richie has just one point in his last 5 games, which isn’t acceptable for him by any means. Richards is a top three scorer on this team, and in order for the Rangers to get the most out of their entire lineup, they need Brad to up the ante here.
As for Gaborik, I’m not as worried about him because he’s still getting chances – he’s just struggled to get them to the back of the net. As long as he keeps shooting the goals will come, but he is yet another player the Blueshirts need more out of.
According to coach Tortorella, both Brandon Dubinsky (shoulder) and Ruslan Fedotenko (back) are likely to return to the lineup tonight. That means Wojtek Wolski will be a healthy scratch.
Henrik Lundqvist will be in goal.
New York Rangers Lineup