The New York Rangers travel to the Florida Panthers on Friday night with one goal (besides winning) in mind: They have to protect the puck better in vulnerable situations. Against the Capitals, the Rangers were uncharacteristically sloppy in the neutral and defensive zones, and their opponent cashed in for goals on nearly every one of their gaffes.
Friday night (7:30 p.m. EST, MSG) New York will face a Florida team that has run into some tough times lately, but is still three points behind them. They won their last game, but only have three wins in their last nine games (earning points in six of them, though). This is the Blueshirts' last game before the Jan. 2 Winter Classic against the Flyers. It's crucial the Rangers don't discount this game because they're looking ahead to that one.
Part of what has made the Panthers the Southeast's top team and the Rangers a top team in the East is the fact that they haven't just given points away. Florida is also exceptional at home, with a 9-3-5 record. New York is 11-6-2 on the road.
The one thing the Rangers do have going for them is fewer injuries and great depth as a number of guys have stepped up this season. The Panthers have seven forwards out of the lineup and have been forced to play a lot of close games lately. They've also are close to signing former Devils center John Madden to help fill the void.
The main focus to stop the Panthers has to be their swift-skating first line and their puck-moving blueliners. Kris Versteeg leads the team with 38 points and 17 goals, while three defenseman rank fourth, fifth and sixth on the team in scoring. New York will look to capitalize on more chances than it did against Washington, none more so than a power play that has been nonexistent lately; it now ranks 20th in the league. The Rangers also need to be disciplined as Florida has the seventh-best man-advantage rate in the NHL.