The New York Rangers (17-8-4) have lost three games in a row once all season -- and it was the first three games of the year. They are potentially at the lowest point in their schedule; the last two games the Blueshirts have been quieted by two very sound defensive teams, scoring once in that time. Saturday night's clash at 8:00 p.m. EST (MSG) with the Phoenix Coyotes (16-12-3) could be just what the team needs to find its stride again, as the Coyotes have one win in their last four games -- and three in their last eight.
Over their last two games, the Rangers have lost their overall energy and battle level. The staple of their game: forechecking, cycling and winning puck battles along the boards -- everything that translates to offense -- has been missing. Coach John Tortorella tinkered with the lines after the first period in St. Louis, and he may have to do so again with Mike Rupp ready to go. The Blueshirts have played two solid defensive teams over their last two games and their "fight" has disappeared, so it will be interesting to see if the coach re-inserts Sean Avery into the lineup as well. Erik Christensen and John Mitchell figure to be the leading candidates.
Regardless of which "new" players get put in, the Rangers' top-line guys have to get the job done. Brad Richards needs to bounce back from his dreadful last game in which he was benched, while Brandon Dubinsky has to find his game, which has disappeared this season, as he has one goal and 13 points. He was skating better in St. Louis but still can't get the puck to find the twine. Ruslan Fedotenko has done a serviceable job on the second line, but in reality someone like Dubinsky, who needs to be the first choice, or rookie Carl Hagelin has to take the reigns. Brian Boyle is another guy who needs to step up; after a breakout 21-goal year last season, he has just two goals and eight points this season. The Blueshirts need more offense from their center, even if he's only on the third line.
The Coyotes aren't the most dangerous offensive team, as they've scored 2.58 goals per game. Veteran Ray Whitney leads the team with 28 points, while Radim Vrbata paces the squad with 15 goals. Goalie Mike Smith -- 14-9-3, 2.53 goals-against average, .920 save percentage -- has been a bit leaky in net lately, allowing at least three goals in five straight before their latest 4-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers.