The New York Rangers are rolling right now, with four wins in a row and 11-2-0 record in their last 13 games. Saturday at 7:00 p.m. EST (MSG), coach John Tortorella will face his old squad, the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has really been disappointing this season. Not only are the Lightning on the brink of teetering below .500 (11-11-2), they've won only three of their last nine games. It's a game between two teams headed in totally different directions.
But, Tampa Bay is a different team at home, a dominant one, with a 7-3-0 record so the Blueshirts cannot take them lightly. In addition, New York did not beat them at all last season, going 0-2-2. The X-rays on Derek Stepan's ankle came back negative, but he's still said to be limping around. His absence tomorrow could be a blow to not only the first line, but all of them as for the first time in a while, Tortorella has stuck with four lines for several games in a row because of such great chemistry.
Tampa Bay has fallen below expectations this season mainly because they've gotten little-to-no secondary scoring and they're goaltending has been abysmal. Beyond the "Big Three" -- Steven Stamkos (16 goals, 26 points),Vincent Lecavalier (10 goals, 18 points), Martin St. Louis (seven goals, 20 points) and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron -- the Lighting have not proven to be a threat. They may have the same goals for (in two more games) than the Rangers, but they've given up 27 more to give them a negative-11 goal differential. New York's is plus-16.
While Dwayne Roloson was stout in net last season, he is 6-7-1 this year because of an unsightly 3.51 goals-against average and a .887 save percentage. It sounds cliche, but he's really showing his 42-year-old age. As a result, he only has one more start than backup Mathieu Garon, who has a 5-4-1 record, 2.42 GAA and .916 SV%.
The formula for the Blueshirts remains the same as in the previous four games: continue to get balanced scoring and play strong defense by winning battles and getting pucks out of the zone quickly. There can be no sitting back. The elite teams -- and the Rangers are not there yet, but possibly moving toward that level -- take care of business against teams searching for their way.