The Rangers (16-13-3, 35 pts) kicked off their three-game road trip with one of their best performances of the season Tuesday night in Philadelphia, beating the Flyers 5-2. Now the trick for the Blueshirts is to follow up Tuesday's effort with one just as good---if not superior---against perhaps a more difficult opponent tonight in Ottawa against the Senators (18-9-6, 42 pts). While the Flyers own a sub .500 record and trail the Rangers by seven points in the Eastern Conference standings, the Senators sit in fifth place, seven points up on the eighth-seeded Rangers.
Tuesday's win snapped a two-game winless skid and boosted the Rangers record to 3-1-1 over their last five games. In that mix they have won their last two games on the road, after their disheartening three-game road trip two weeks ago when they dropped all three contests and were outscored 9-2. Now they have put together an impressive 3-2 road win in New Jersey last week and Tuesday's 5-2 victory in Philly on Tuesday to improve their road record to 6-7-1 on the season.
John Tortorella changed all of his line combinations Tuesday and the results could not have been much better. All four lines wreaked havoc on the forecheck and did a good job creating scoring opportunities. The No. 1 line of Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash accounted for three goals and eight points with Stepan (1-3-4) scoring the game-winner and establishing a career-high with four points. Nash scored twice---including his 300th NHL goal---and added an assist, with both of his goals being hugely important---the game-opening score in the first period and the 4-2 goal that quelled Philadelphia's comeback hopes in the third period.
The line of Chris Kreider-Brad Richards-Brian Boyle accounted for the other two goals with Kreider and Richards finding the back of the net, while Boyle was a strong physical presence all night. And rookie J.T. Miller returned from a sore wrist to earn the coach's praise while centering Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. And the fourth line of Arron Asham-Kris Newbury-Taylor Pyatt played a string of strong minutes for a second straight game.
It would seem---at least based on one game---that these line combinations really spread out the wealth of talent for the Rangers. It will be interesting to see when/if Mats Zuccarello joins the team how the mix will be changed. Zuccarello met the team in Ottawa on Wednesday, but he has yet to receive his release from his KHL contract so he is not yet allowed to play for the Rangers.
Henrik Lundqvist has started a season-high eight games in a row in goal, and continues to play at an elite level, which he did again with his 32-save effort against the Flyers. Lundqvist, who owns a 2.20 goals against average and .922 save percentage, has allowed two goals or fewer in five straight games, and in ten of his last 13 starts. On February 21st at ScotiaBank Place, Lundqvist was sensational against the Senators, making 35 saves in what turned out to be a 3-2 shootout loss.
In fact the Rangers have dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions to the Sens this season, and tonight marks the final meeting between these two teams in 2013.
Ottawa comes into play having won two straight and five of their last six. In those five victories the Senators have scored 20 goals, an impressive number when considering how they continue to play without the injured Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. Starting with their March 8th win at Madison Square Garden, the Sens have earned points in eight of nine games, posting a 6-1-2 record.
Goaltender Craig Anderson remains out with a badly sprained ankle, though his return is close at hand as he has been practicing with his Ottawa teammates this week. Ben Bishop (7-4-0 in 11 appearances, 2.54, .923) will start against the Rangers tonight. He and rookie Robin Lehner (3-1-4 in 8 appearances, 2.05, .940) have done remarkably well with Anderson sidelined, and the pair has kept Ottawa in the hunt for first place in the hotly-contested Northeast Division with Montreal and Boston.
Will the Rangers make it 2-for-2 to start this road trip with a win tonight? Share your predictions below.