Carolina Hurricanes (5-7-3) at New York Rangers (8-3-3)
Madison Square Garden, 7 p.m.
TV: FS-Carolinas, MSG
With the losing streak now at three games and the Canes near the bottom of the conference, you would believe that things are all gloom and doom in Carolina right now. It doesn't help that tonight they are going up against the surging New York Rangers who have won five in a row. I, however, am optimistic about tonight's game because the Canes had a relatively strong game against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday and are finally starting to let some of their young talent play. All season long I have been waiting for guys like Zach Boychuk and Zac Dalpe to get a shot in the top-six and one of them finally has. That one was Zach Boychuk (Dalpe is a healthy scratch, unfortunately) as he had one of his strongest games as an NHL-er last Tuesday when he played on the second line with Tuomo Ruutu and Alexei Ponikarovsky. Maurice has rewarded his good play with a promotion to the top line and now we finally get our chance to see if Boychuk can work with this year's Eric Staal, who really needs to get the wheels turning at even strength. Oh, and that Jussi Jokinen guy who was the team's best forward in the first month is returning after many thought he would be done for at least a month.
Optimism all around for me.
Lines and analysis after the jump
Boychuk - Staal - Ponikarovsky
Ruutu - Ruutu - Skinner
Dwyer - Sutter - LaRose
Tlusty - Brent - Stewart
Allen - Gleason
Pitkanen - McBain
Kaberle - Harrison
Stepan - Anisimov - Gaborik
Dubinsky - Richards - Callahan
Fedotenko - Boyle - Prust
Avery - Christensen - Deveaux
McDonagh - Girardi
Del Zotto - Sauer
Woywitka - Eminger
Getting to know the Rangers
They're on a bit of a hot streak now but I am not fully convinced that this team is any better than they were last season, but I'm willing to cut them some slack because they are missing their best defenseman. The Rangers rank last in the NHL in shots for/60 minutes in 5-on-5 play and have scored only 25 goals at even strength this season. They are also getting outshot at a higher rate than Carolina at a horrible -8.7 SF +/- which is bad no matter who you are. Even if we remove scoring effects they are still getting shelled (.450 corsi w/ score tied). Why are they 8-3-3? For starters, they have arguably the best goalie in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist who has been very good (aka being his usual self) to start the year (.935 EV Sv%) and have gotten solid back-up goaltending from Martin Biron, too.
The Rangers have also received some great play from Artem Anisimov who has been arguably their best offensive player despite having only 33.3% of his shifts start in the offensive zone. Now that he has been bumped up to a line with Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan, I would imagine that his play is only going to get better. Gaborik is also having a great start to the year too as he leads the team in goals and points, which is how it should be. The Rangers banged up defense has caused them to lean heavily on Dan Girardi to play huge minutes and he's done that so far but he's struggling a lot without Staal. Ryan McDonagh can only do so much as a second-year player trying to replace Staal. I wouldn't be surprised to see Michael Sauer inserted into that role to take some pressure off McDonagh.
Notes, Analysis & Matchups
- Boychuk posted a corsi rating of +7 against the Devils on Tuesday and his line was the only one on the team to finish in the positive column. Before we get really excited about that, let's conisder the fact that he was matched up against Adam Larsson, Andy Greene, Nick Palmeri and Ryan Carter. Those aren't exactly players who I admire for their defensive abilities and now that he's playing with Staal, he's going to have to deal with Girardi and McDonagh. As for forwards, NYR usually sends out the third line of Ruslan Fedotenko, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. I think they are solid in their roles but they are getting brutalized in terms of shots given up this season.
- Ward's career save percentage against the Rangers is .933. I don't put much value into those stats because of how much randomness and luck is involved with goaltending but I thought that it was worth throwing out there.
- Skin & Finns are reuinited and it feels so good. I'm hoping these three can pick up where they left off in their last game together and outchance the opponent while lighting up the score sheet. This was the one line that was able to do that last season.
- I'm not sure who Bryan Allen and Tim Gleason will be matched up against but my instincts say it'll be the Stepan-Anisimov-Gaborik line simply because Gaborik is a threat who we have to contain. However, the Rangers second line with Dubinsky, Richards & Callahan needs to be kept in check too. Pitkanen and McBain are going to have a lot of work to do tonight, either way.
- The Canes powerplay hasn't been good the last few games but they still rank in the top 10 in the league in terms of getting shots on net. I still maintain my belief that the goals are going to come on the PP and that should be even more true now with Jussi Jokinen back.
- I like putting LaRose on the third line. He's creating chances and not giving up that many in his own end but he's also gotten the benefit of cushy zone starts from playing on the top line. Can he do the same with the competition and tough assignments that Dwyer and Sutter usually have? I hope so. Those two really need to pick it up at even strength and are going to have a load on their hands tonight against this Ranger top line.
Enjoy the game.