Game Fifty, the New York Rangers at the Nashville Predators
This afternoon the Rangers will start a difficult stretch of travel that will bring them halfway through the month of February. In the next week and a half (including this afternoon's game against Shea Weber and the Predators) the Rangers play six games in ten nights, five of which road games. After this afternoon's contest with the Preds, the Rangers head back to the Garden to play the Dallas Stars, the team that broke their unbelievable winning streak, at 5 PM. The Rangers will travel from Nashville to New York (home) to Toronto to Colorado to Arizona and back to New York (away) in just ten days. There have obviously been nuttier traveling schedules, but this is something to keep in mind over the next stretch. It could prove to be a challenge for the hirts. Thankfully, there are a lot of very beatable teams on the horizon and right now the Rangers are rolling.
Even without Henrik Lundqvist in the lineup on Wednesday night the Rangers managed to beat the Boston Bruins to pick up their third straight win. Rick Nash simply can't be stopped, the defense is finding a way to make it work despite lackluster play from the top pair, Derek Stepan's outstanding season continues to go unnoticed by seemingly EVERYONE, and we saw both Chris Kreider and Martin St. Louis have really solid games against the Bruins. Tonight, the Rangers will need more of the same against the Predators. The Predators are on top of the Central Division which is quite a feat considering that the Blues and Blackhawks call the Central home.
Nashville has a top five offense and the second best defense in the league regarding the amount of goals they score and surrender per game. If that doesn't give you an idea of how good this team is, I'm not sure anything will. So, any weakness? The Predators are average or below average on special teams and almost all of their offense comes from the Filip Forsberg (how does that trade feel, Caps?) line, including Mike Ribeiro who is enjoying a career resurrection in Nashville (I knew he'd be a steal). Oh, and they have Shea Weber, Roman Josi, and James Neal. Another big name in their lineup is Mike Fisher, who most of us best remember from his days in Ottawa. Fisher been red hot of late and in 29 games played he has 14 goals, giving the Preds some invaluable depth scoring. Tonight the Rangers will have their hands full with a very balanced and different Predators team. These Predators don't beat you 2-1, they now have the goods to beat you 4-1 if they're really clicking. Nashville is one of those teams that you have to find a way to outplay at even strength and then when you do, you still have the amazing Pekka Rinne to deal with. Buckle up, Rangers fans.
The New York Rangers' February Schedule
2/2 Panthers at the Rangers, 7:00 PM(win.) 2/4 Bruins at the Rangers, 8:00 PM(win.)
2/7 Rangers at the Predators, 3:00 PM
2/8 Stars at the Rangers, 5:00 PM
2/10 Rangers at the Leafs, 7:00 PM
2/12 Rangers at Avalanche, 9:00 PM
2/14 Rangers at Coyotes, 8:00 PM
2/16 Rangers at Islanders, 7:00 PM
2/19 Canucks at Rangers, 7:00 PM
2/20 Rangers at Sabres, 7:00 PM
2/22 Blue Jackets at Rangers, 7:30 PM
2/24 Flames at Rangers, 7:00 PM
2/26 Coyotes at Rangers, 7:00 PM
2/28 Rangers at Flyers, 8:00 PM
Mike's Player to Watch: Carl Hagelin
Pad. Those. Stats. (note: he does only have 2 empty net goals on the season... but it feels more like 7 or, like, I don't know... 20? Sure. 20)
Let's go Rangers! Drop the puck.