After 9-2 and 6-0 losses in San Jose and Anaheim, respectively, their previous two games, the Rangers (1-3-0, 2 pts) look to get back in the win column when they skate against the St. Louis Blues (3-0-0, 6 pts) Saturday night at the Scottrade Center. A strong effort against the Blues would go a long way to restoring self-confidence within the team, and let management and the fans breathe a bit easier heading into next week's divisional showdowns against the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers will not have their two most high-profile players in the lineup, though, when they face the red-hot Blues. Rick Nash missed Thursday's loss in Anaheim and is back in New York recovering from a blow to the head suffered in the first period Tuesday night. So the Rangers again will try and get back on track while playing without their most-feared offensive weapon. And goaltender Henrik Lundqvist---who is healthy, though somewhat reeling after the past two games---will give way to Martin Biron in goal. Biron, who surrendered five of those goals in relief of Lundqvist in San Jose on Tuesday, will be making his first start f the season---a critical one already, so soon in the reagular season.
By the looks of practice on Friday, head coach Alain Vigneault will shake up the line combinations he started with Thursday in Anaheim. Most importantly that would mean Brad Richards will move back to the wing, and Brian Boyle---who won 76 percent of his faceoffs against the Ducks despite skating on the wing---will return to center, and the trio of Taylor Pyatt-Derek-Stepan-Jesper Fast likely will not remain intact after combining to be a minus-9 Thursday evening.
With just six goals scored through four games, the Rangers have many concerns offensively---especially without Nash available to play. Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Callahan, and Michael Del Zotto are among the key Rangers who are scoreless so far this season. The power play has shown flashes, but has not been consistent yet through four games.
The bigger concern is in the defensive zone where the Rangers have rotuinely turned the puck over, failed to clear when given the chance, and been exposed in front of their own net. The Rangers have allowed 20 goals already, an inordinately high total considerng their talent in goal and on the blueline. Vigneault shuffled his defense pairings Thursday and will likely continue again with the Marc Staal-Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh-Anton Stralman, John Moore-Del Zotto pairs. Del Zotto enters play a team worst minus-seven over the first four contests.
In complete cotrast to the Rangers are the Blues, who are healthy and thriving with an undefeated record to start the season. They will seeking to win four straight games to start a season for the first time in franchise history tonight. The Blues, who are coming off a dramatic last-second witn over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks Wednesday night, have outscored the opposition 14-4 in total through three games, including a completely dominating 7-0 win a week ago over the Florida Panthers.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has been rock solid, posting a 1.33 goals against average and .948 save percentage in the three wins for St. Louis. Offensively eight different Blues have recorded at least three points already this season, with defenseman Alex Pietrangelo leading the team with five points (all assists) and winger Alex Steen posting a team-best three goals. The Blues are clicking on the power play where they have comverted on 40 percent of their opportunities to date.
The challenge Saturday is a steep one for the Rangers, who will be only slightly better than halfway through their season-opening nine straight games on the road after the conclusion of play this weekend. Regrouping with a spirited effort against the Blues, though, would certainly move the Rangers' cause in the right direction again.