Thusday will be a rather historic night at Madison Square Garden as the Rangers play the 6,000th regular season game in franchise history, becoming the fifth team in NHL history reach that number. Instead of facing one of their long-time rivals in this milestone contest, though, the Rangers (31-23-3, 65 pts) instead will be hosting a team they have faced only 64 times in their long history, the Edmonton Oilers (19-33-6, 44 pts). Nonetheless it is another important game for the Blueshirts who are looking to finish strong in their final two games before the arrival of the Olympic break.
Following Tuesday's convincing 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche at The Garden, the Rangers own a season-high four-game winning streak entering play Thursday, which is the front end of back-to-back games at home against Edmonton and on the road in Pittsburgh Friday against the Penguins. The Rangers have won seven of their last nine contests, 10 of 13, and are 15-5-1 in their last 21 games, winning in all possible fashions, though consistently relying on their solid team defense and goaltending as the backbone to success.
The Rangers have allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of their last 13 games, and have given up just one in each of their last three games--a span in which the Rangers have outscored the opposition 11-3. During their four-game winning streak the Rangers have outscored their opponents 18-6, and have scored four goals or more three out of those four games, showing that the offense has been just as solid as the defense. Fourteen different Rangers have scored goals during the winning streak, with Chris Kreider, Dan Girardi, John Moore, and Kevin Klein the only Blueshirts not to have found the back of the net.
Henrik Lundqvist has received the bulk of the work in goal during the team's hot streak the last five weeks or so. Lundqvist, who has allowed only nine goals in his last seven starts, has started five games in a row, and 12 of the team's past 14 contests. However with back-to-back games to close out the schedule prior to the Olympic break there is a good chance that Alain Vigneault will turn to Cam Talbot in one of these games, more likely Thursday against the Oilers since Friday's game is against the top team in the Rangers division and a more likely fit for Lundqvist. Since the Rangers practice was cancelled due to the bad weather Wednesday, Vigneault was not available to announce who his starting goalie would be against Edmonton.
One area the Rangers would like to improve upon these final two games before the break is their power play, which had been humming along until a recent power outage. Though they have been getting good puck movement and good looks on the power play, the Rangers have now gone five games without scoring a power play goal, posting a 0-for-13 mark during that stretch following Tuesday's oh-for-three. The Blueshirts have now fallen to tenth overall in the NHL in power play efficency. Perhaps the Rangers can get going again on the power play Thursday facing an Oilers team which is ranked 17th in the league on the penalty kill.
While the Rangers did not practice due to the weather and poor traveling conditions Wednesday, the Oilers were able to practice, taking the team bus from their Manhattan hotel to Chelsea Piers. Rookie head coach Dallas Eakins--who played three games with the Rangers during the 1996-97 campaign--announced after practice that Ben Scrivens will make the start in goal against the Rangers despite the fact that Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 42 of 44 shots in Monday's 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. Scrivens began the year with the Los Angeles Kings and arrived via trade in Edmonton a few weeks ago. He established an NHL record by stopping 59 shots in a 3-0 shutout over the San Jose Sharks on January 29, two starts ago.
Thirty-five players have played in at least one game for Edmonton already this season as Eakins has juggled his lineup due to injury and ineffectiveness. While there is a plethora of high-end young talent on the team--with the likes of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, Justin Schultz, and more--there has been even more losing this season than in recent years, which is saying something since the Oilers have not reached the post-season since dropping the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals to the Carolina Hurricanes. Edmonton currently resides in last place in the Pacific Division with a Western Conference-worst 44 points.
The Oilers have won four of their last five games, however, and they do play an exciting brand of hockey with their young high-end talent.Their biggest issue has been keeping the puck out of their own net. Edmonton has allowed 196 goals already this season, most in the NHL, though they are hopeful that the recent additions of Scrivens and Bryzgalov will solidify their goaltending position.