Having won five of their last seven games---including three of five on a just-completed road trip---the Rangers (21-20-2, 44 pts) play their first home game in 2014 on Monday night when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (18-20-4, 40 pts) at Madison Square Garden. Having faced the Blues Jackets twice already this season--once in each respective building--this game is now less about reunions and playing against former teammates than it is about the Rangers seeking to grab an important two points and putting a little distance between themselves and a division rival.
That doesn't mean Monday's game won't have a little extra juice to it for the likes of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and John Moore--not to mention ex-Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov--but this isn't a first meeting against a former team, or a first visit back to The Garden, or anything of that nature. The Rangers are playing well---6-3-1 in their last ten games overall and 3-1-1 in their last five on home ice--and they are desperately trying to put together a sustained run of consistently winning hockey, especially with seven gmes against divisional opponents on tap for the rest of the month of January--beginning on Monday.
The Rangers are coming off Saturday's 7-1 dismantling of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game which saw 15 of the 18 Rangers skaters record at least one point and all 18 notch at least one shot on goal. The seven goals represented a season-high for the Rangers, as did their 50 shots on goal. That this dominating performance came on the heels of a subpar outing in Pittsburgh the night before was viewed in the Rangers dressing room Saturday as a true sign of the team's character. However Dominic Moore, who scored twice against the Maple Leafs, also pointed out that the impressive pushback Saturday does not mean as much if the Rangers do not follow it up with another strong performance on Monday night.
Several struggling Rangers found the scoresheet in Toronto, though Nash--one goal in his last ten games---was not one of them. Nash has most definitely had his chances of late, and did score against Tampa eight days ago, and perhaps a second crack at his former team will get him the results he is craving. Nash was held without a point and without a shot on goal when facing his former club during the Blue Jackets 4-2 win at The Garden on December 12th.
On the birght side, Brad Richards snapped a 12-game goal-scoring drought in Toronto, while Brian Boyle netted his first goal in 28 games, and Dom Moore scored twice, only his second and third goals of the season.
Dan Carcillo, who was acquired from the Lons Angeles Kings for a conditional seventh round selection in the 2014 NHL Draft over the weekend, will meet his teammates and take part in the morning skate on Monday. It is not yet known whether or not the rugged enforcer will be in the lineup or not, especially now that Derek Dorsett is sidelined 4-6 weeks with a broken right fibula.
Rookie defenseman Conor Allen--a healthy scratch in Toronto--was sent back to the Hartford Wolf Pack on Sunday after three solid games at the NHL level. With the return to health of veterans Marc Staal and Anton Stralman, and Michael Del Zotto's return to the lineup Saturday, the Rangers had eight defensemen on the roster precipitating the move to send Allen back to the minor leagues for more seasoning.
Columbus is coming off a 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday and has dropped three of its last four games. In those three defeats the Blue Jackets have surrendered a total of 16 goals, though in their one win since December 27th the Blue Jackets shut out the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0 last Thursday. Curtiss McElhinney made 26 saves in that victory, though he followed by surrendering six goals on 36 shots after his teammates had given him a 2-0 lead in St. Louis on Saturday night.
McElhinney has been playing---and splitting time with journeyman Mike McKenna--because the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky has been working his way back from injury. Bobrovsky is only 10-11-2 on the season with a 2.72 goals against average in 23 appearances.
Two former Rangers currently on the Blue Jackets roster are playing very well. Brandon Dubinsky has 26 points (7-19-26) in 36 games played, good for second on the team, while Artem Anisimov ranks second on Columbus with 12 goals scored. Marian Gaborik, meanwhile, is serving his second stint on Injured Reserve and has just five goals and 12 points in 18 games played so far this season.
Only four points separate fourth-place New York and seventh-place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers will enter play Monday just two points behind second-place Philadelphia in the division.