The Rangers (3-4-0, 6 pts), who have yet to win on the road this season after losses in Boston and Philadelphia, have a tall order on their hands Saturday night when they skate against the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning (6-1-0, 12 pts) at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. While the Rangers are coming off of dismal 3-0 home-ice loss to the Penguins on Thursday, the Lightning demolished the Winnipeg Jets 8-3 at home Friday night and have now won five in a row entering play this evening.
Part of the great challenge facing the Rangers tonight is the fact that the Lightning lead the league in goals with 37---an average of more than five goals per game. The Bolts have scored eight goals once, six goals twice this season, and five goals twice. Of course this means the Rangers will have to play their best game defensively, get superior goaltending, and then be able to generate a lot more offense then they did Thursday when Tomas Vokoun blanked them.
Another key tonight for the Rangers will be to stay out of the penalty box. The Rangers, who own a very solid penalty killing unit, have been hurt by some needless penalties of late---including a string of too many men on the ice penalties which head coach John Tortorella refers to as being "mentally weak". The Lightning own a lethal power play---last night they scored three power play goals in the first period alone---and are among the best teams in that category early in the 2013 campaign, scoring at a better than 34 percent clip.
Tortorella and Brad Richards always have a little extra incentive playing their former club---the one with whom they helped lead to the 2004 Stanley Cup championship---and the Rangers may also receive an added boost with the expected start of Martin Biron in goal. Should Biron make his first start of the season, one would expect the Rangers to play extremely hard in front of the popular netminder.
Last season the Rangers and Lightning split their season series two games apiece---including a split of the two games played in Tampa. Three of the four games were decided after 60 minutes of play, with the Rangers losing one shootout at The Garden on December 8, 2011 and two other games in the series being decided in overtime---with Richards lifting New York to a 4-3 OT victory on February 9th at The Garden. Prior to their 4-3 overtime loss on March 2nd a year ago, the Rangers had won five in a row in Tampa.
The Rangers will once again be without their captain Ryan Callahan, who made the trip to Tampa, but will not play due to a subluxed left shoulder. Chris Kreider, who has been sidelined with a chipped bone in his ankle, has been skating the past few days, but likely will not play Saturday. Tampa has a host of newcomers on their team this season including goaltender Anders Lindback, defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo, and rookie scoring sensation Cory Conacher. They are fitting in seamlessly with the talented veteran corps of Martin St. Louis---who is among the league's top point producers this season, captain Vinny Lecavalier, and the 60-goal scorer from a year ago, Steven Stamkos.
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