Coming off an extremely disappointing four game road trip in which they lost the last three games, the Rangers (13-12-2, 28 pts) return to Madison Square Garden Monday night to face the Carolina Hurricanes (15-11-1, 31 pts) for the first time this season. Both teams will be looking to regain their edge, as the Rangers have dropped four of their last five games and the Hurricanes have lost two in a row and three of their last five.
The game takes on some extra significance when looking at the Eastern Conference standings, as well. The Rangers have dropped into tenth place in the conference and trail the eighth-place 'Canes by three points. And Carolina has been passed by Winnipeg for first place in the Southeast Division, meaning a drop from third place in the East to eighth.
Most importantly for the Rangers, they just need to find their game again. After an impressive win in Washington last Sunday the Blueshirts had won five of their previous six games and seemed to be firing on all cylinders. But a dispiriting loss on Buffalo on Tuesday was followed by defeats in Winnipeg and Pittsburgh, sending the team into a bit of a freefall. First and formost the Rangers want to find their offensive touch again. They have scored only two goals in their previous three games; and Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan have accounted for four of the team's six goals dating back to that 4-1 win against the Capitals.
Marian Gaborik is without a goal in five games, and has just one in his last 14 games. Taylor Pyatt has not scored in nine games, and has one goal in his last 23 matches. Michael Del Zotto has gone 19 games since his last goal. Rookie J.T. Miller is 17 games without scoring. And Brian Boyle has only one goal all season. Plain and simple, the Rangers need to generate more offense. The Blueshirts team defense ranks fifth in the league, allowing only 2.41 goals per game, but the team is ranked 26th out of 30 teams offensively.
The revived power play has sputtered as of late, too. The Rangers have had just four power play opportunities the past three games---failing to score on any. And the Blueshirts have scored just one power play goal in the last five games, after netting five in the previous four matches.
Monday's contest starts a stretch of three-games-in-four-nights for the Rangers, and also kicks off a week with games exclusively in the New York area. After hosting the 'Canes on Monday, the Blueshirts skate in Newark against the Devils on Tuesday, then return to The Garden to host the Panthers on Thursday and the Capitals on Sunday. The Rangers are 9-5-1 on home ice this season, and just 4-7-1 on the road.
This contest against the Hurricanes was supposed to be the first time ever that three Staal brothers had appeared in the same NHL game. Carolina captain Eric Staal was joined this season by younger brother Jordan following a trade with Pittsburgh, and the two Staals center the top two lines for the Hurricanes. Of course the Rangers Marc Staal remains sidelined after being hit in the eye with a puck nearly two weeks ago, and there is no timetable for his return to action. Nonetheless there is expected to be a mini Staal family reunion off the ice as their parents are coming into town for the game, too.
Eric Staal leads the 'Canes with 33 points (13-20-33) in 27 games. He is a whopping +20, and has scored four game-winning goals. Brother Jordan is fourth on the team with 18 points (6-12-18). Another newcomer has made an even bigger splash in Carolina, however. Former Capitals winger Alex Semin is second on the 'Canes with 29 points (8-21-29), has scored three power plays goals, and is a +19.
This increased offensive production---including the strong play of Jiri Tlusty, who is 13-9-22---has helped Carolina lead the Southeast Division much of the season. The Hurricanes have missed the playoffs three straight years, and in five of the last six seasons.
Last season the Rangers swept their season series with Carolina, winning all four games while outscoring the 'Canes 17-8. Martin Biron started three of the four games in goal for the Rangers a year ago, while Henrik Lundqvist backstopped a 5-1 victory at The Garden on November 11, 2011. Monday's game is the first of three between the two teams this season, with the next two slated to be played in Carolina.
Will the Rangers snap out of it and get back on the winning track Monday? Share your predictions below.