Fresh of their first television appearance on HBO's 24/7 and a 1-0 loss Tuesday, the New York Rangers will take on the surging -- and revitalized -- St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center on Thursday night (8:00 p.m. EST, MSG). The Blues (37 points) have one less point than the Rangers, but have kicked things into high gear since Ken Hitchcock was named coach after Davis Payne was fired, going 11-2-3 with him behind the bench and 3-0-0 in their last three.
To make matters even tougher for New York, the Blues have the second most wins on home ice, with an 11-3-1 record. They also have a goalie who has surprised everyone with his near-flawless play in Brian Elliott. The 26-year-old has a 12-2-0 record and leads the league in goals-against average (1.45) and save percentage (.947). Jaroslav Halak was supposed to be the shoo-in No. 1 guy, but some early struggles prompted St. Louis to use Elliott and he has run away with his opportunities.
The Rangers will have their work cut out for them in terms of generating offense. Not only do the Blues have one of the season's best between the pipes, they also allow the leagues fewest shots on a goal per game with 26.2. New York also ranks 25th in shots on goal, but has been much better lately (not counting the last game) in putting goals on the board.
With their balanced lines -- and two formidable scoring ones -- the Blueshirts have been tougher to defend and matchup against. The one question mark facing New York is what they are going to get out of the struggling Brandon Dubinsky. The 25-year-old has just one goal and 13 points on the season. His play will dictate whether he's on the fourth line or paired on the second with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Coach John Tortorella generally has a good sense of whether he's got his game going or not.
What cost the Rangers against the Dallas Stars, was their inability to get anything going on the man advantage. If a sound defensive team like the Blues gives them chances, it will be crucial to convert -- and even more simply, shift (or keep) the momentum on their side.
Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie lead the way for the Blues with 19 points, while David Backes has 18 and paces the team with 10 goals. This is a team with an assortment of solid-to-plus offensive players, but no go-to stars. St. Louis ranks 25th in the league with 2.45 goals per game, shedding even more light on how it wins games. In what's setting up to be a low-scoring affair, one mistake -- just like the last game -- could be all that this game is decided upon.