After opening their five-game road trip Friday night with a 3-2 loss in Washington, the Rangers (18-19-2, 38 pts) skate against the Tampa Bay Lightning (23-11-4, 50 pts) Sunday evening at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Rangers will carry an impressive run of eight victories in their last 11 road contests into the game Sunday, to go along with an overall 10-9-0 road record into the match. The only Eastern Conference teams with more road wins this year than the Blueshirts are the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins, both of whom have won 11 times on the road.
When the Rangers do take to the ice Sunday Henrik Lundqvist will be back between the pipes, making his first start in nine days. Since that 5-3 loss to the Islanders on December 20th Cam Talbot started all three games in goal, winning the first two on home ice before shouldering the loss in Washington on Friday, a game in which he stated afterwards he allowed a pair of goals he felt he should have stopped, including the game-winner scored by Eric Fehr late in the third period.
Lundqvist is just 1-4-2 in his last seven starts, allowing three goals or more in each of those contests. In fact dating back to a 5-0 loss in this very same city to the Lightning back on November 25th, Lundqvist has surrendered three or more goals in nine of his last 11 starts. Head coach Alain Vigneault emphasized again following practice Saturday that if the Rangers are to get to where they want to be this season they will need Lundqvist to get his game back in order, on the level he has displayed throughout his magnificent NHL career. Certainly goalie, coach, and teammates hope Sunday is the start of good things as calendar year 2013 winds down.
On Saturday Vigneault also lamented the team's lack of finish, stating that he thought his club was the better team 5-on-5 against the Capitals Friday, but just could not find ways to score against Philipp Grubauer, who made 37 saves. The Rangers did receive a power play goal from Benoit Pouliot---who now is riding a career-high six-game point-scoring streak---and a shorthanded goal from Carl Hagelin---who has four goals in his last six games---as the special teams certainly stood out.
Perhaps facing the Lightning will get a rise out of some of the Rangers slumping offensive stars. Several Blueshirts have very solid career numbers against Tampa Bay, including Rick Nash (12 points in 14 games), Derek Stepan (11 points in 12 games), and former Lightning Stanley Cup hero Brad Richards (12 points in 11 games).
Rookie defenseman Conor Allen was called up from the Hartford Wolf Pack late Friday night after Anton Stralman suffered an undisclosed injury. Stralman did not practice on Saturday and is listed as out on a day to day basis by the team, and it is unlikely he will play against the Lightning. In his place would go Allen, who a year ago was playing at UMass-Amherst and earlier this season registered 13 points in 29 games in the American Hockey League.
The Lightning are playing the second straight night on home ice after Saturday's 2-1 loss in the shootout to the Canadiens. Martin St. Louis scored Tampa's lone goal---his 17th---and he now is 12th in the NHL in goals scored and 13th overall with 38 points. St. Louis enters play with a four-game goal scoring streak and a six-game point scoring streak.
Tampa Bay is 5-0-1 in its last six games, earning a possible 11 of 12 points since December 15th. They currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division with 50 points.