The Rangers (8-6-2, 18 pts) take center stage in Canada this evening when they face-off with the Montreal Canadiens (11-4-2, 24 pts) in a Hockey Night in Canada showdown at the Bell Centre. It will be the second meeting between these two Original Six teams in the past five days, with the Canadiens having beaten the Blueshirts 3-1 Tuesday night at The Garden in their first meeting of the season.
The game tonight will conclude the Rangers two-game swing through Canada. The Rangers dropped a 3-2 decision to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night, a game decided after seven rounds of the shootout. That loss drops the Rangers to 1-1-2 in their last four games, though the Blueshirts have secured at least one point in the standings in six of their last seven games---posting a 4-1-2 record in that span.
Rick Nash will once again be absent from the Rangers lineup this evening. The star forward remains in New York with an undisclosed injury, and will miss his third consecutive game. Perhaps seeking a lift offensively with Nash hurt, the Rangers recalled rookie Christian Thomas from the Connecticut Whale late Saturday night, and he will be available to play against the Canadiens if head coach John Tortorella chooses to insert him into the lineup. In his first pro season the Rangers second round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft has scored 13 goals and totaled 24 points in 52 games with the Whale. He has played his best hockey over the past couple of weeks, and did score 54 goals in juniors two seasons ago.
Nash is joined on the sdielines by concussed forward Darroll Powe tonight, while it is unknown whether or not Arron Asham will be able to play. Asham was scratched Thursday because he was "banged up." As a result, Tortorella dressed Stu Bickel as a forward, and the rugged Ranger provided a string of gritty minutes on the fourth line.
In addition, defenseman Michael Del Zotto is a question mark tonight after being forced from the game Thursday with an undisclosed injury in the thrid period. It is not known if he will be able to play against the Canadiens, and as a precaution veteran Steve Eminger has been recalled from the Whale where he was in the midst of a two-week conditioning stint.
No matter the lineup the Rangers need to generate more consistent offense and control more of the play than they have the past two games. But that won't be easy because the Blueshirts have not won in Montreal since March of 2009, and last year were beaten twice by the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, scoring just once in those two matches.
While the Rangers seem to be losing players, Montreal should be getting one back in the lineup tonight when rookie Brendan Gallagher likely returns from a concussion he suffered last weekend against the Flyers. The 20 year-old has played extremely well, so far, in his first NHL season, ranking sixth among rookies with eight points, and second with an impressive +7 plus/minus rating.
Montreal will be fired up for this contest after blowing a lead in an eventual 4-3 overtime loss on home ice to the Islanders on Thursday night. The defeat snapped the Habs season-high five-game winning streak, though they still sit atop the Eastern Conference standings with 24 points. Montreal has already reeled off the five-game win streak and another four-game win streak one month into the 2013 season.
Will the Rangers snap their six-game losing streak they have in Montreal? And how will they compensate playing without Rick Nash again? Share your predictions below.