Tonight the Rangers will play their first game since losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3 on Monday the 1st at Madison Square Garden. We should all be thankful that the Rangers and Lightning won't be meeting again in the regular season because, as Joe discussed after that loss, it was the Rangers' best performance against the Bolts and they still allowed 5 goals (the 6th was an empty netter). Prior to the Rangers' loss on Monday they had picked up two straight wins against Claude Giroux and the Flyers (that feels like an eternity ago, doesn't it?) and were playing some inspired hockey despite being banged up and having some holes in the lineup. With this four day break the Rangers will get Dan Boyle back, which is great news for the power play, and will hopefully have a Ryan McDonagh with a little bit less rust than he has been showing since returning from the shoulder injury he sustained after being rocked by Evander Kane.
The good news for tonight? We're not playing Stamkos, Callahan, Johnson, Bishop, and Tampa. The bad news? We're on the road playing the Detroit Red Wings, another strong hockey team from the highly competitive Atlantic Division. The other good news is that Tanner Glass is skating with his teammates again but is not expected to play today which means the Rangers will have one more body in the bottom six that can actually contribute towards winning a hockey game tonight, especially since Detroit is not exactly known for being a rough and tumble bunch.
Detroit is 10-3-2 on home ice this season which means they have one fewer home win than the Rangers have total wins. The Red Wings are currently 4th in the east with a record of 15-6-5 and they are doing a solid job of putting pucks in the net and keeping pucks out of their own net. The Red Wings' powerplay has been outstanding this season. Tampa Bay's power play, which had the Rangers penalty killers looking like they had peg legs and blindfolds on, is 23.2%. Detroit's is 23.1%. Detroit is among the elite in goals scored per game, shots registered per game, and they are a dominant faceoff team. Tonight's game is going to come down to goaltending, staying out of the box, and puck possession which shouldn't really come as a surprise because those things are always important but they are particularly important against a team that is playing the way Detroit has been playing on home ice.
The Rangers are giving the nod to Cam Talbot who is coming off of a shutout against the Flyers and has looked very strong after a slow start to the season.
The Rangers are going to have to do a better job of creating offense out of their own zone and that will start with guys like Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle making better passes now that they've had some time to shake off the rust and get healthy. The Rangers will also have to find a way to shut down Pavel Datsyuk (19 points in 15 games) and Henrik Zetterberg (24 points in 26 games) who are both about as good it gets in the National Hockey League. Lately Detroit has been getting some depth scoring from all over their lineup, including Stephen Weiss who has 9 points in 7 games since returning from injury.
It can't be stressed enough that the Rangers have to be better in their own end and have to help their goalie out more than they have been. We can't see odd-man rushes, open men around the net, breakaways, and power plays like we did on Monday against the Lightning. It's easy to groan about Lundqvist allowing 5 goals on 20 shots but what's more upsetting is the mental mistakes that created so many of the goals and the wide open players in dangerous scoring areas that Hank couldn't really do much about, although it is fair to say he should want a few of those goals back.
So tonight the Rangers have a tough test ahead of them against Datsyuk and the Red Wings. Jimmy Howard will be in net for the Red Wings tonight and the Rangers are going to have to do what they can to pick up a point or two tonight in the Joe against an original six rival.
It feels like it's been an eternity, but Rangers hockey is finally back. Let's go Rangers.