Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers (8-7-2, 18 pts) look to put the breaks on a three-game slide as they open up a very important four-game homestand with a clash against a Winnipeg Jets (8-9-1, 17 pts) team that is looking to finish a strong five-game road trip on a high note. And to make this evening's game even more intriguing, the Rangers enter play just one point ahead of the surging Jets in the Eastern Conference standings, making it an important contest even if it is still relatively early in the 2013 season schedule.
The Blueshirts return home after an unsuccessful road trip into Canada in which they garnered only one of a possible four points. New York earned that point in a shootout loss in Ottawa on Thursday before being shut out by Carey Price and the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday. The Rangers are 0-2-1 in their last three games, and just 1-2-2 in their previous five overall. However with a 6-3-1 mark at The Garden this season, the Rangers are hopeful that this four-game homestand will give then a kickstart in the right direction.
It appears that gritty forward Darroll Powe and defenseman Michael Del Zotto could return to the lineup on Tuesday, giving the banged-up Blueshirts a much-needed lift. Powe missed three consecutive games after suffering a concussion against Washington on February 17th, but practiced with the team on Monday and looks good to go according to head coach John Tortorella. Del Zotto sat out Saturday's contest after suffering an unspecified injury Thursday against the Senators. He, too, practiced on Monday and seems healthy enough to play tonight. In addition Dan Girardi, who was hurt blocking a shot in the final seconds of the Montreal game Saturday, also took part in practice on Monday and declared himself ready to play against the Jets.
While that is the good news on the injury front, the Rangers could likely be facing a fourth straight game without Rick Nash in the lineup tonight, and key defenseman Ryan McDonagh is likely out after suffering an undisclosed injury when boarded into the glass during the second period by Montreal's Max Pacioretty in the Rangers previous game. Neither player took part in Monday's practice, and neither did Arron Asham, who seems destined to miss his third straight game with back spasms.
With Powe healthy again, rookie Christian Thomas was returned to the Connecticut Whale on Monday after making his NHL debut in Montreal. Thomas played nearly 13 minutes, recorded two shots on goal, and overall impressed with his play.
Henrik Lundqvist, who was given the night off in favor of Martin Biron on Saturday, will get the nod in goal tonight for the Blueshirts. Lundqvist, who allowed only two goals in winning both of his starts against Winnipeg a year ago, has posted a 1.98 goals against average over his last 12 starts this season. He is coming off a 35-save effort against Ottawa last Thursday.
Winnipeg is looking to close out its successful road trip with an exclamation point this evening. The Jets, who beat the Devils at The Rock 4-2 on Sunday, have won three of the first four games of their road trip, knocking off Buffalo and Carolina in one-goal decisions to start the trip before suffering a 5-3 loss in Philadelphia on Saturday. All told on the season, so far, the Jets are a solid 5-4-1 in road games.
In their victory over the Devils, Winnipeg lost the services of Antti Miettinen and Dustin Byfuglien during the contest. While Byfuglien was able to practice on Monday and seems ready to play against the Rangers, Miettinen has been ruled out of the game.
While the Jets are closing in on the .500 mark, they still have a shaky -9 goal differential this season, due in large part to an unsightly 3.11 goals allowed per game---ranking them 24th out of the 30-team NHL. Winnipeg is also dead last on the penalty kill---working at just 69 percent success rate. They have surrendered three power play goals in a game on three occasions already in 2013.
A year ago the Rangers swept their four-game series with the Jets, outscoring Winnipeg 12-3 in the process. Both Lundqvist and Martin Biron recorded shutouts against the Jets in 2011-12, with both of the blankings taking place at Madison Square Garden.
How vital is it that the Rangers snap their skid tonight? What will it take for the Rangers to secure the victory? Share your predictions on tonight's game below.