Playing their only road game in a two-week stretch the Rangers (25-21-3, 53 pts) skate in Ottawa Saturday afternoon, taking on the Senators (21-18-9, 51 pts) in another extremely important Eastern Conference match-up. The Rangers currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division, and sixth place in the East, just two points ahead of Ottawa which is fifth in the Atlantic Division and currently in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers are coming off a homestand in which they won three of four games, finishing it off with an exciting 1-0 victory of the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night. They are now 11-11-3 on home ice this season and will return to Madison Square Garden Sunday night for a divisional showdown with the Washington Capitals in the back-end of this weekend back-to-back set. Including the game against the Capitals, the Rangers will play three straight at The Garden before facing the Devils next Sunday outdoors at Yankee Stadium as part of the Stadium Series.
Though the Rangers have played extremely well on the road this season—their 14 road victories are tied for most in the Eastern Conference—it was imperative that they started to play better on home ice, which they have done recently, posting a 5-1-1 mark at The Garden since late December. Between their string of home games and the two Stadium Series games against the Devils and Islanders in which they are the visiting team, the Rangers’ trip to Ottawa will be their only time on an airplane for nearly a month. The Rangers next time on a plane won’t come until they travel to Pittsburgh the first week of February.
Cam Talbot will make his first start in exactly two weeks between the pipes for the Rangers on Saturday. Talbot’s last start on January 4th resulted in a 7-1 thrashing of the Maple Leafs in Toronto in which he made 25 saves. He has won three of his last four starts, and is 9-3-0 on the season with a 1.66 goals against average and .938 save percentage.
It must have been tempting for head coach Alain Vigneault to run Henrik Lundqvist back out there on Saturday with Lundqvist coming off an impressive 38-save shutout over the Red Wings. However with the team playing 15 games in 29 nights Vigneault felt it important to stick to his gameplan of starting Talbot in one of these weekend games after Lundqvist had started nine of the previous ten.
Vigneault left open the possibility that defenseman Justin Falk could play in Ottawa, saying after practice Friday that he was “not 100 percent sure” whether or not Falk would get reinserted into the lineup. Falk has been a healthy scratch in nine straight games, and Vigneault has not been looking to change his lineup what with the team playing well and posting a 9-3-1 overall record since a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on December 22.
Included in that run was the road dismantling of the Maple Leafs two weeks ago, and a very impressive 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks in Chicago on January 8th. The Rangers have won four of their last five road contests, and 12 of 16 dating back to their 3-2 overtime victory in Detroit on October 26th.
Like the Rangers, the Senators have had their struggles on home ice this season, posting an 11-10-5 record in Ottawa. They will receive a boost to their lineup as Chris Neil returns from injury Saturday, which the Rangers most definitely will take notice of. In particular Daniel Carcillo will be well aware of Neil’s presence on the ice, as will Brian Boyle who to this day bristles at the mention of Neil who concussed Boyle during the 2012 playoffs with a questionable hit.
Craig Anderson will start in goal for the Sens. Coming off a splendid---when healthy--season a year ago, Anderson has struggled mightily this season, entering play with a 3.16 goals against average over 32 appearances. Last year Anderson a career-season with a 1.69 GAA and .943 save percentage, though he did miss considerable time due to injury. Anderson allowed five goals on 23 shots in Thursday's 5-4 overtime loss to the Candiens--a game decided on P.K. Subban's overtime winner.
Despite that defeat Ottawa has climbed right back into playoff contention by recording at least one point in eight straight games (6-0-2) dating to December 28th. Where once the Senators were well out of the playoff picture, now they are right in the mix and are among the hotter teams in the East. Part of the reason for that has been the team's strong offensive play. Ottawa has scored 26 goals over the last eight games; and the team has six double digit goal scorers, led by Bobby Ryan with 19. Erik Karlsson is one of five Senators with more than 30 points already this season, leading the team---and all NHL defensemen---with 46 points in 48 games.
Following Saturday's game the Sens will embark on a four-game road trip, and will play seven of their next eight games on the road. On a just-completed four-game road trip earlier this month the Sens won three times.