Sunday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers (10-9-0, 20 pts) play the second half of difficult back-to-back games this weekend when they host the Los Angeles Kings (13-6-1, 27 pts). The Blueshirts are coming off Saturday's 1-0 hex-busting victory in Montreal, and now will try and replicate their sound two-way performance against a Kings team which is looking to sweep their three games through the New York City area after win earlier in the week over the Islanders and Devils.
Saturday's win at the Bell Centre was the Rangers first in that building over the Canadiens since 2008-09, a string of eight games (0-7-1). While it will make the current team happy that they won't have to answer any more questions about not winning in Montreal, the victory was most important because it was a bounce-back win after a frustrating loss last week at home against the Devils and because it kept the Rangers from falling under the .500 mark, something they do not want to see happen again this season. Plus there was no way the Blueshirts wanted to come into The Garden and face an elite Kings team on Sunday riding a two-game skid, with the Bruins laying in wait for a Garden visit on Tuesday and a five-game road trip to follow hot on the heels right afterwards.
The Blueshirts also had to like the way they played tighter defensively on Saturday then perhaps they did their last two games---a 4-3 win over the Panthers last Sunday, and Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Devils. They allowed Montreal only 22 shots on goal, though Cam Talbot still was required to make several important saves along the way before cementing his first NHL shutout. In the third period the Rangers controlled the puck, pushed the pace and outshot Montreal 10-5 while preserving---and trying to build on---their 1-0 lead. Puck possession, pace of the attack, tight defensive play, and a strong forecheck were keys in the Rangers win on Saturday and will be paramount if they hope to beat a fery good Kings team on Sunday.
After watching Talbot star in Montreal, Henrik Lundqvist will make the start against the Kings on Sunday. Lundqvist earned his first win of the season out in Los Angeles on October 7th, a 3-1 victory in which he made 28 saves.
With Rick Nash still not quite ready to return to the lineup due to his head injury, the Rangers lineup should look the same Sunday as it did on Saturday---except for Lundqvist starting in goal ahead of Talbot. Dominic Moore was a force in his return to the lineup after a seven-game injury absence Saturday, while Justin Falk did a credible job while logging 12:11 on the blueline in the place of the scratched Michael Del Zotto. With back-to-back games on the schedule, and starting a stretch of nine games in 15 days, head coach Alain Vigneault rolled four lines and three defense pairs Saturday, and the play of Moore on the fourth line--along with J.T. Miller and Benoit Pouliot---and of Falk alongside John Moore allowed the coach to follow that gameplan with confidence.
Los Angeles is closing out a four-game road trip, which opened with a 3-2 shootout loss in Buffalo before a wild 3-2 come-from-behind win on Long Island and a 2-0 shutout in Newark. They are relying on backup goaltender Ben Scrivens now that starter Jonathan Quick is sidelined indefinitely due to a groin pull. Scrivens is 3-1-1 on the season in seven appearances with a 1.51 goals against averaghe and .940 save percentage. He is tied for the league lead with two shutouts already, and the 26-save outing on Friday against the Devils was the fourth of his young NHL career.
Playing in perhaps the toughest division in the league, the Kings incredibly sit in fourth place cespite having 27 points through 20 games. LA trails first place Anaheim by five points, though the Kings do have two games in hand. If the Kings played in the Rangers Metropolitan Division, they would have a three-point lead over the current first place team, Pittsburgh.
The Kings are 4-0-1 in their last five games overall, and have not lost two games in a row all season. They are equally as good on the road as they are at home, posting a 6-3-1 mark on the road and a 7-3-0 record at the Staples Center.
Following Sunday's contest the Rangers have a day off on Monday before hosting a tough Bruins team on Tuesday. There is a chance that Nash could return to the Blueshirts lineup that night, accordint to what the star forward said Saturday morning in Montreal.