Tonight the Rangers will meet the Montreal Canadiens for the first time since Carey Price shut the Blueshirts out on October 15th in a 3-0 Habs win. The Habs are 6-2-2 in their last ten games and have a record of 16-4-2 thus far this season. Whichever team wins tonight's game will have the most points in the Eastern Conference and, for the time being, in the league (the Dallas Stars also have 34 points). The Rangers are 10-1-1 this season on the Garden ice and have won their last nine home games. Both original six clubs are bringing two game winning streaks into tonight's game.
The Canadiens will be without right winger Brendan Gallagher who has had an outstanding 2015-16 season thus far. Montreal will have to make due without Gallagher for an expected six weeks after the forward broke two fingers in his left hand. Replacing him in the top six tonight will be Devante Smith-Pelly who will skate with Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty on the top line. The loss of Gallagher is a big one for the Habs as pointed out over at Eyes On The Prize:
Gallagher's loss goes deeper than the impressive numbers he has put up in the box score. As Berkshire pointed out on last night's Ice Level, No Canadiens forward gains the offensive zone more efficiently than #11, and few players in the NHL have put up more scoring chances this season than the Habs' top right-winger. That loss of proficiency places a huge burden on Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec, who will be asked to continue to function as a number one line without that bastion of strength to their right.
Canadiens' Injuries: Alexei Emelin is soon to return but reportedly not expected to play tonight, Michael Bournival is out indefinitely with a concussion, Torrey Mitchell is expected out for another week or so with a lower body injury, and Zack Kassian is currently in the league's substance abuse program.
Price in the Crease
While Gallagher and a few other Habs are out of the lineup tonight for Montreal, the recent return of superstar goaltender Carey Price has been grabbing headlines around the league. Mike Condon was superb in Price's absence but Price is without a doubt one of the two or three best goaltenders in the world. As outstanding as Henrik Lundqvist has been for the Rangers this season, Carey Price has been just as valuable to the Habs while he has been in the lineup.
There will be no escaping the Carey Price vs. Chris Kreider story line tonight which has only intensified since this memorable moment from the first meeting of the season between the Rangers and Canadiens.
And Habs fans are still laughing.
Will Nash Stay Hot?
Four on one? Yeah, rip it.
Will Rick Nash stay hot and continue to contribute to the offense? Against the Panthers Nash peppered the net with ten shots and picked up his first hat trick of the season and against the Nashville Predators Nash scored once on his only shot of the game. With all of the Rangers who are shooting at unsustainably high rates it was great to see the Rangers' resident goal scorer start to find the back of the net and find four goals in the Rangers' last two games.
Given how amazing Mats Zuccarello has been playing and what Derick Brassard has brought to the table for the Rangers this season the chances of Nash continuing to produce are solid. However, that can't happen without Nash putting more pucks on the net which is something that he can't do without the help of his linemates and some better puck movement from the Rangers' blue line.
If the Rangers want to earn a victory tonight they are going to need to forget their victory over the Nashville Predators because frankly, they did not play winning hockey. The team should collectively shake their heads like Etch-a-Sketches and put that fortunate win behind them. Putting the Canadiens on the power play as often as the Rangers put the Predators on the power play would be a recipe for disaster and is something that the Rangers are going to need to avoid. The Blueshirts will also need to be a great deal better in all three zones against the Habs tonight and find a way to slow down one of the most productive offenses in the league that still presents all kinds of trouble for the Rangers even without Brendan Gallagher in the lineup.
The puck drops at 7:05 tonight and will be on MSG 2, TSN, SNO, and RDS.
Thanks for reading.