The Rangers defense corps will get a boost Tuesday night when the team plays a 5:00 New Year's Eve contest down in South Florida against the Panthers. Both Marc Staal and Anton Stralman will be in the lineup, returning from injuries. They will take the place of Michael Del Zotto and Justin Falk, meaning rookie Conor Allen will play his second straight game.
Staal missed the previous ten games following a concussion suffered in the December 7th contest with the New Jersey Devils. He and head coach Alain Vigneault both confirmed after Monday's practice that Staal would be returning to the lineup on Tuesday night. Stralman sat out Sunday's 4-3 victory in Tampa due to a sore left wrist--the first game he had missed all year--and was considered to be a game-time decision for the Florida contest, and Vigneault announced two hours before the drop of the puck that the Swede would join Staal in a return to action.
Allen remains in the lineup after playing nearly 16 minutes in his NHL debut Sunday. Vigneault said that he plans to start the game by pairing Allen with Staal--as they did at practice Monday---and have Stralman play alongside John Moore.
"We're going to start Conor with Marc because both Marc and Stralman are coming back from injuries, and we'll see how those guys react coming back," explained the head coach.
As for the 23 year-old Allen, Vigneault said, "On the bench in tha last game against Tampa you heard our forwards on a number of occasions say 'Good patience', 'Good play','Way to take the hit to make the play', etc. So in that one game we played in Tampa we liked what we saw."
As for Del Zotto, who has gone seven games without recoding a point and had two assists in ten games since his most recent healthy scratch on December 7th, this will be the eighth time he is being scratched this season. Before the game Vigneault was direct when discussing Del Zotto's play.
"It's more up to him," stated Vigneault. "The way his identity is he is supposed to be an offensive defenseman. He's supposed to be able to beat the forecheck and join the rush at the right time, help out on the power play. Those things have been there, but have not been there on a consistant enough basis. The way he's played he's fighting for that third pair of D, and depending on his performance he's either in or he's out."
In 32 games this season Del Zotto has two goals and seven points. He ranks tied for third on the team amongst defensemen in points and tied for second in goals.
Taylor Pyatt will once again be the healthy scratch among the forwards. New Year's Eve will mark the eighth straight contest Pyatt has been scratched.
Henrik Lundqvist, who has five career shutouts against the Panthers, will start in goal for New York. He is coming off a 37-save effort in Sunday's win over the Lightning.