By time Sunday ends the Rangers will be more than halfway through the longest homestand in franchise history, and they are more than hopeful that they will finally have a victory to show for their effort by that point. After having lost the first four games (0-3-1) on this nine-game homestand, and coming off a pair of practice days, the Rangers (15-17-1, 31 pts) host the Calgary Flames (13-15-4, 30 pts) Sunday night at Madison Square Garden looking to put things back in order.
Not only have the Rangers lost four straight on this holiday homestand, but they have not held a lead for a single second in their last three contests against Washington, Nashville, and Columbus; and in the last two games, they have faced early deficits and trailed by multiple goals before the first period was even over. Stunningly the Rangers are 1-15-0 when the opposition scores first this season, and have not won a single game on home ice when surrendering the game-opening goal.
So a stronger start and finding a way to score the first goal---where the Blueshirts own a 14-2-1 record in such games this season---seems pretty imperative Sunday. However even that is no guarantee of victory on this homestand because eight days ago the Rangers carried a 2-0 second-period lead against the Devils before succumbing 4-3 in overtime.
What would most definitely help is the return to form of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has allowed 14 goals in the four losses, and was pulled from Thursday's game against the Blue Jackets after allowing three goals on 13 shots during the opening period. Finding a way to score more goals--the Rangers have four in their last three games, and have scored 12 goals in their last eight defeats combined---is also an obvious remedy for what ills the Blueshirts, and a stronger 60-minute commitment from the entire team is sought by head coach Alain Vigneault, as well.
The return of Derick Brassard, who sat out Thursday's game due to injury, should help balance Vigneault's lines more, even though Brassard has scored only one goal in his last 11 games, totaling six points (1-5-6) in that span. Another center, Derek Stepan, spoke on Friday about the importance of getting his game going, as well. Stepan is without a point in four straight games, and without a goal in ten.
Brassard's return likely means that either Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham, or Benoit Pouliot will be scratched up front on Sunday.
On defense Vigneault has chosen to break up his top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi in order to balance out his pairs with Marc Staal sidelined by a concussion. McDonagh will skate with Anton Stralman, Girardi pairs with Michael Del Zotto, and John Moore is on the third pairing with either Justin Falk or rookie Dylan McIlrath who played 13 shifts and logged 8:55 in his NHL debut Thursday night against Columbus.
The Flames come in following a 2-1 overtime victory Saturday afternoon up in Buffalo, a fine start to a five-game road trip. Matt Stajan scored just 42 seconds into the extra session to give Calgary its second straight overtime win, following a 2-1 home ice victory over the Hurricanes on Thursday. Paul Byron, whose first goal of the season in the third period tied the game, assisted on Stajan's winner, as goaltender Karri Ramo finished with 26 saves. Ramo has now won four of his last five starts.
Overall the Flames have won five of their last seven games, including their last three on the road. In fact Calgary is now a respectable 7-8-1 on the road this season, and they are seeking more success on this road trip to try and fight their way into relevance out west. Currently the Flames sit in sixth place in the tough Pacific Division, and own the third worst record in the entire Western Conference. A 5-13-2 start to the season crippled Calgary early and they have been trying to recover ever since.
Several walking wounded have recently returned to the Flames lineup and buoyed the team. Defenseman Mark Giordano made his way back about two weeks ago, while rookie forward Sean Monahan---who has nine goals, second most among all NHL rookies---and linemate Curtis Glencross returned from injury Saturday in Buffalo.