Though it's a modest goal, the Rangers (6-7-0, 12 pts) will try and reach the .500 mark Monday night for the first time in a month, since the second game of the season, when they host the Anaheim Ducks (11-3-1, 23 pts) at Madison Square Garden. The Blueshirts, who have won three in a row and four of their last five games, will also be seeking a bit of retribution from an Anaheim club which dismantlled New York 6-0 back on October 10th at the Honda Center.
At the time of that loss to the Ducks, the Rangers were reeling---having dropped back to back games out west in San Jose and Anaheim by a combined score of 15-3, and they had already surrendered 20 goals over the first four games of the season while off to a 1-3-0 start. That record would fall to 1-4-0 and 2-6-0 before the tide began to turn in the Rangers' final game of their season-opening road trip in Detroit on October 26th, a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory. That win started the recent march back to the respectable .500 level.
Of course a team like the Rangers has aspirations much higher than just having a .500 record, but reaching that level would be impressive considering where they were just a couple of weeks ago. To continue to surge past that mark and be the contender the Rangers feel they truely are, the team must continue its sound defensive play and receive the quality goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot it has of late---the Rangers have allowed only three goals during their three-game winning streak, and 13 goals over the last eight games. Lundqvist has sparkled since returning from injury, winning two of three starts and allowing only three goals on 84 shots.
A resurgent offense, and revived special teams play, have also played major roles for a Rangers team that continues to move forward without its top offensive threat in Rick Nash and its captain Ryan Callahan. The hope, though, is that Callahan will be able to rejoin the lineup at some point this week. It is also hoped that center Dominic Moore---out two straight games with a strained oblique muscle---could be playing again by the end f the week.
Still the Rangers' power play has scored in three straight games---it is 4 for its last 11 in that span---and four of the last five. And the even strength goals are coming, too, largely from the line of Chris Kreider-Derek-Stepan-Mats Zuccarello who are coming off a monster nine-point night Saturday against the Hurricanes, with Stepan netting his first three goals of the season for his second career Hat Trick, and Kreider and Zuccarello both assisting on all three. In the past three games this line has combined for 15 points. Kreider already has doubled his point output from last year---six to three---in six games played this season compared to 23 a year ago.
Kreider, Zuccarello, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh all enter play Monday with points in three straight games, and winger Carl Hagelin will coming in with three points (2-1-3) in three games since returning from off-season shoulder surgery. Hagelin sparked the Rangers Saturday night, scoring the first two goals in a 5-1 victory over the Hurricanes.
While the last two wins over struggling Buffalo and Carolina were impressive, the Rangers understand they will need to be much better all-around Monday when they host the Ducks. Anaheim comes in tied for first place in the Pacific Division with 23 points, and their 11 victories are tied for second-most in the NHL along with the Pittsburgh Penguins---who just so happen to be the Rangers next opponent Wednesday night at The Garden.
Perhaps the Rangers are catching the Ducks at a good time, though. The Ducks are playing the final game of an eight-game road trip, one that started with losses in Torntono and Montreal. Anaheim is an impressive 4-2-1 during the trip, coming off Saturday's 6-3 victory in Buffalo, though they could be looking ahead to finally returning back home to California.
Led by Ryan Getzlaf (6-10-16) and Corey Perry (8-7-15) Anaheim has scored 50 goals through 15 games, fourth most in the league. Six Ducks have scored at least four goals already---by comparison only one Ranger has reached that mark, Brad Richards with five. This will be a major challenge for the rejuvinated Rangers defense and goaltending, to slow down the Ducks high-octane offense, even with Teemu Selanne, Jakob Silfverberg, and Saku Koivu out injured.
On Sunday the Ducks reached down to the minors for reinforcements, recalling defenseman Luca Sbisa and center Rickard Rakell.
The Rangers four-game homestand concludes Wednesday night when the Penguins pay a visit to The Garden. Then the Blueshirts head out to face the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Thursday night.