When the Rangers began the 2013-14 season, being a .500 hockey club was not one of the team's goals. Yet after a rough start to the season, which saw the Rangers lose four of their first five games and stand at 2-6-0 through eight contests, finally climbing back to .500 following Thursday's 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets was a fairly major accomplishment. Now what the Rangers (8-8-0, 16 pts) would really like is to finally move over the .500 mark for the first time this season, something they can do with a victory Sunday night when they host the Florida Panthers (3-10-4, 10 pts) at Madison Square Garden.
Coming off impressive back-to-back wins Wednesday and Thursday with a 5-1 home-ice victory over the Penguins and a 4-2 win in Columbus, the Rangers are surgng right now and playing their best hockey of the young season. The Rangers have won five of their last six games, and six of eight, allowing only 12 goals in their last eight contests while scoring 23 of their own. In five of their last eight games the Rangers have scored at least three goals, and twice they have notched a season-high five. Their recent run of stingy defense--not allowing more than two goals in nine straight games---is the first time since 1971 the Rangers have accomplished such a feat.
Henrik Lundqvist will be back between the pipes for the Blueshirts on Sunday after seeing backup Cam Talbot win for the third time in four starts this season Thursday in Columbus. Talbot tied his career-best with 32 saves, including 14 in the third period. Now Lundqvist will look to continue his strong play which has seen him allow only four goals in his last four starts, and just six in five starts since coming back from injury on October 28th. In his last start Lundqvist stopped 28 of 29 shots in backstopping the wn over Pittsburgh.
A pair of Ryans are helping power the Rangers as of late at both ends of the ice. Ryan Callahan scored a goal and added an assist against Columbus, and now has two goals and two assists in three games since returning from a broken thumb last Monday against Anaheim. His three power play goals---he scored with the man advantage Thursday---lead the team, while his five goals in only eight games played this season are tied with Brad Richards for most on the team. Meanwhile McDonagh also contributed a goal and an assist against the Blue Jackets. His four goals this season lead all Rangers defensemen and rank tied for third among all NHL defensemen. He is 3-3-6 in his last six games, and 4-5-9 overall this season.
The Rangers must avoid any letdown against a badly struggling Panthers team on Sunday. Florida has lost seven games in a row (0-4-3), and made a coaching change on Friday with Kevin Dineen being replaced by Peter Horachek, who made his head coaching debut in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators. He takes over a team with many issues, not the least of which are an Eastern Conference-worst team goals against average and a sputtering offense which is averaging fewer than two goals per game. To that end the Panthers have a power play which is clicking at under 10 percent so far this season, and which has scored in only four of 17 games this season.
Florida will play without veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski--who has been out a month due to injury. The Rangers are minus Rick Nash for a 14th straight game--though he began skating with teammates on Saturday, while Taylor Pyatt will miss his first game since signing with the Rangers as a free agent prior to last season. Pyatt suffered a concussion on an elbow to the head from Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin on Thursday. Dominic Moore will sit out his sixth straight game due to a strained oblique.