One of the top road teams in the National Hockey League faces one of the best on home ice when the Rangers (12-11-0, 24 pts) skate against the Tampa Bay Lightning (14-8-1, 29 pts) Monday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Rangers currently have eight road victories this season, most in the Eastern Conference and tied with four other teams for most in the entire league. They have also won six straight contests on the road, including the first two of this five-game road trip in Dallas and Nashville, Meanwhile the Lightning are a robust 8-2-0 in their home building, just two shy of the most home victories in the NHL.
Their latest success on the road came Saturday night for the Rangers, who shut out the Predators 2-0 in a stifling defensive performance that saw Nashville held to only 17 shots on goal. Cam Talbot earned his second straight shutout in goal, and only had to make five stops in the third period as his teammates controlled the puck nearly all the time. It was an extremely impressive team performance throughout the lineup---no matter that it was on the road or on home ice---and was much more of what the Rangers have been like as of late compared to their 3-2 win Thursday against the Stars in which Henrik Lundqvist faced 43 shots.
Lundqvist, who is 16-7-6 in 29 career outings against Tampa Bay with a 2.08 goals against average, will be back in goal for the Rangers Monday and will be hoping for defensive support more in line with what Talbot had Saturday as opposed to his own one-man show in Dallas. Still, Lundqvist's brilliance last Thursday did add to the team's recent stretch of allowing two goals or fewer in five straight games and 14 of the last 16. The Rangers have surrendered only two goals in their last three road games and have held their opponents to two goals or fewer in seven consecutive road contests since a 4-0 loss to the Devils in Newark on October 19th.
Offensively the Rangers have only topped two goals once---Thursday in Dallas---in their last six games, going 3-3-0 in that span. In fact the Blueshirts have scored just seven goals total in their last five contests, but have won three of those games due to their superior team defense and goaltending. There have been some clutch goals on this road trip so far---spread out throughout the lineup---with five different Rangers tallying goals in Dallas and Nashville--Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, John Moore, Ryan McDonagh, and Derek Stepan. That four of those goals finally came at even strength, where the Rangers have struggled recently to find the back of the net, and a pair came from defensemen, had to make head coach Alain Vigneault happy, as did the fact that Nash scored his first of the season.
Young forward J.T. Miller has been a healthy scratch three straight games, and it is not known if he will be reinserted into a lineup that has won the first two games on this trip. Vigneault did say before the road trip started that Miller would get a chance, but so far that opportunity has not come.
The Rangers face a bit of a banged up Lightning team that returns home after an 0-3-1 road trip out west. In fact the Lightning have played seven of their last eight games on the road (2-4-1), though they begin a five-game homestand Monday, a string that stretches to five of their next six at Tampa Bay Times Forum through December 7th.
Star center Steve Stamkos, who has 14 goals and 23 points in 17 games, suffered a broken leg and is out indefinitely, and quite possibly for the remainder of the season, a crushing blow to the Lightning who sit tied for second place in the Atlantic Division. Stamkos still ranks as the league's third leading goal scorer despite the fact that he has already missed six games since breaking his leg. Joining Stamkos on the sidelines recently have been rugged forward Ryan Malone (lower body), forward Tom Pyatt, and defensemen Radko Gudas (upper body injury) and Keith Aulie.
Of course the Lightning do have the league's reigning scoring champion, Martin St. Louis, in their lineup. St. Louis recently played in his 1,000th NHL game, and this year has posted eight goals, 13 assists and 21 points. Former Red Wing Valteri Filpulla leads the healthy Lightning players with nine goals, while Alex Killorn has stepped up with 15 points in 23 games.
Tampa Bay, and its new head coach Jon Cooper, has received quality goaltending from Ben Bishop so far this season, perhaps finally settling things down at the position---which has been an achilles heel for this organization over the past several years. Bishop, who is unbeaten lifetime in three decisions against the Rangers, is 13-3-1 in 18 appearances this season for Tampa Bay, with a 2.20 goals against average and one shutout. Bishop's 13 wins are second most in the league.
Following Monday's contest the Rangers remain in the Sunshine State, next facing the Florida Panthers in Sunrise on Wednesday night.