Winners of two straight, the Rangers (5-7-0, 10 pts) look to run their winning streak to a season-best three in a row Saturday night at Madison Square Garden when they host the Carolina Hurricanes (4-6-3, 11 pts) in the second game of a four-game homestand. It will mark the first meeting between the two teams since being united in the newly-created Metropolitan Division this past summer, adding extra significance to the contest. The Rangers have split their first four games within the Metropolitan Division so far this season---beating the Capitals and Islanders, losing to the Devils and Flyers---while the Hurricanes have dropped two of three within the division.
Playing their best hockey of the young season, the Rangers closed out the month of October by winning three of their last four games, including Thursday's 2-0 shutout victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The Rangers have now allowed two goals or fewer in five straight contests, have two shutouts in their last four wins, and have surrendered only 12 goals in their last seven games. Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 29 shots he faced Thursday to earn his 47th career shutout, and second of the season---tying him for the early-season league-lead with San Jose's Antti NIemi and Colorado's J.S. Giguere. Since returning from injury, Lundqvist has made two starts and stopped 54 of 56 shots this week.
What has been most impressive about the Rangers' offensive game recently has been their hunger to go get loose pucks, and then control the puck in the attacking zone. The team's puck posession has been vastly improved since Chris Kreider's recall from Hartford five games ago, and Carl Hagelin's return from injury two games ago. That pair has infused much-needed speed into the lineup, and has helped balance out the lineup, as well. Kreider has scored goals in back to back games and has three points in five games (2-1-3), providing a distinct jolt of energy into the Rangers' collective game. Hagelin assisted on the game-winning goal against the Islanders in his season debut Tuesday, and followed that up with 18 effective minutes Thursday night.
No question the Rangers still miss the finish and skill provided by the injured Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan, but the Rangers looked impressive offensively against the Sabres, finishing with a season-high 46 shots on goal. To a man the Rangers said afterwards that more finish is needed because the 2-0 final was not at all representative of how much they controlled the game against Buffalo. In particular Kreider's line with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello stood out the past two games. On Thursday that threesome accounted for 18 shots on goal, led by Stepan's career-high seven.
The special teams are coming along, too. The Rangers are 3-for-7 on the power play the past two contests, and the team has four power play goals the past four games---which comes after a three-game drought. The Rangers were shorthanded only once against Buffalo, and did not allow a power play goal Tuesday or Thursday---the first time this season the Blueshirts have gone two games in a row with a perfect penalty kill.
Dominic Moore will miss his second straight game with a strained oblique muscle. Once again Brandon Mashinter will take his place in the lineup on Saturday. Mashinter saw only six shifts against the Sabres, but did engage Cody McCormick in a real rock 'em-sock 'em fight early in the first period.
Like the Rangers, Carolina is missing several key players. The Hurricanes are expected to be missing both their No. 1 and No. 2 goaltenders---Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin---for 7-10 days due to injury, meaning the unproven Justin Peters and Mike Murphy must shoulder the load. Jeff Skinner---the team's leading scorer with nine points (3-6-9) in ten games---was just placed on Injured Reserve, as was former Rangers' forward Radek Dvorak (2-0-2 in 11 games); and defenseman Joni Pitkanen is out for the season. To help add more depth up front Carolina signed another ex-Ranger, Manny Malhotra, earlier this week.
The 'Canes have lost four in a row, coming off Friday night's 3-0 home-ice shutout defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Carolina is now 1-3-3 on home ice, and Peters fell to 0-4-0 in four starts while filling in for the injured top two goaltenders. The shutout leaves the Hurricanes having scored only four goals total in their last four games, in which they have been outscored 13-4. One positive for Carolina coming into play Saturday night is the fact that the 'Canes are 3-3-0 on the road this season.
Following Saturday's tilt with the Hurricanes, the Rangers host the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night, seeking some retribution for a 6-0 loss in Anaheim in early October.