After a day off Monday--a chance to clear their heads following a disappointing weekend and a tough start to their nine-game homestand---the Rangers (15-15-1, 31 pts) return to action Tuesday when they host the Nashville Predators (13-14-3, 29 pts) at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers will come in to play with Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Devils and Sunday's 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Capitals still very fresh on their minds, as will all that was discussed in the team's closed door postgame meeting Sunday evening.
Whether or not the team meeting will serve as a rallying point for the Rangers remains to be seen, but certainly the players and their coach Alain Vigneault seemed pretty angry after their lost weekend. To make matters even worse, the Rangers are still unsure of the status moving forward of alternate captain Marc Staal, who is being treated for "neck issues" and other symptoms after being on the receiving end of a Reid Boucher shoulder to his jaw Saturday. The team did not provide an update on Staal's condition Monday, and certainly there is much concern over his health considering his concussion-related history.
With or without Staal the Rangers must move forward and they must find some consistency in their collective game. Effort and on-ice execution have come and gone at different times this season, and Vigneault has been visibly angry recently over the lack of consistency in his team's play. Saturday's defeat was downright painful--a 2-0 lead disipates into a 3-2 deficit before Chris Kreider ties it in the final minute only to disolve completely into a 4-3 overtime loss---and Sunday's may have been more concerning for the lack of fire displayed by the Rangers on their home ice in a game against one of their biggest division rivals.
New York is just 5-7-1 at The Garden this season, already with more regulation losses in 11 fewer home games than a year ago. In the truncated 2013 season the Rangers were a solid 16-6-2 on home ice. The Rangers are winless in their last three home dates (0-2-1) and have just one victory in their last seven games at MSG (1-5-1) after winning four of their first six games at home this season.
Tuesday's contest is the third on the team's nine-game homestand and one of three against sub-.500 opponents this week. Columbus pays a visit on Thursday before the Rangers host the Calgary Flames on Sunday. This would seem a prime chance for the Rangers to improve their fortunes on home ice.
Along with Staal, Derek Dorsett's availability is in question Tuesday. Dorsett has a bruised wrist which has caused him to miss three straight games and five of the past seven. In addition Vigneault has not tipped his hand about what he may do ith his lineup Tuesday. Dom Moore was a healthy scratch on Sunday, and Benoit Pouliot took his place in the lineup and scored his first goal in 19 games.
On Monday, veteran Arron Asham was recalled from Hartford and J.T. Miller was sent back to the minors. Likely Asham will slot back into the lineup on Tuesday.
The Predators come into The Garden on a five-game slide (0-4-1) in which they have scored only seven goals. When the Rangers last faced Nashville on November 23rd--a 2-0 Rangers win---the Predators were in the midst of a stretch of five wins in six games, with the only loss coming against the Blueshirts. Since then they have been outscored 18-7 and have not recorded a power play goal in those five games.
All Star goaltender Pekka Rinne remains out of the Preds lineup with a hip injury, and rookie Marek Mazanec has struggled of late. Nashville's fortunes have been severely hampered by the fact that Rinne has been able to play in only nine games so far his season. Nashville currently sits in last place in the tough Central Division.