The New York Rangers will take on the Tampa Bay Lighting on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m. EST, MSG) for the second time in five days (they won 4-2), and each team will likely be doing likely be without a key player. Michael Sauer is sidelined with a concussion, which was received after he was leveled by Toronto's Dion Phaneuf on Monday, and he is considered day-to-day, but should be re-termed "week-to-week." Tampa Bay's second-leading scorer Martin St. Louis (22 points) took a puck to the eye in the early-morning practice, and he is unlikely to play, either.
Thus, the Rangers will be playing with a depleted defensive core -- with added responsibilities abound, but they won't have to go against one of the "Big Three," which is important because the reeling Lighting (11-14-2)have struggled to score goals this season. Tampa Bay is also in the midst of a five-game losing streak, meaning the Rangers have a great opportunity to rekindle their home success after their first loss since October -- and bounce back from a poor showing against the Maple Leafs
Without Sauer, a stay-at-home defenseman who loves to play physical, the Rangers will utilize Steve Eminger in a second-pairing role. The 28-year-old has been superb in his third-pairing role (only one point, negative-2 rating), but he's only averaged 13:10 per game -- for a reason. Coach John Tortorella has limited the minutes of Eminger and Jeff Woywitka, tactically playing the two against the other team's third and fourth lines. Thursday -- and for the foreseeable future -- Eminger will be asked to step up big time. How he fares will determine whether the coach is forced to break up his shutdown pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
In their current five-game skid, Tampa Bay has been outscored 20 to 8. Steven Stamkos leads the way with 16 goals and 30 points, but besides that (and without St. Louis) the offense has been scarce. Overwhelmingly, while Tampa Bay is not scoring enough, they're giving up way too many goals, too, ranking third in the league in goals given up. This is a prime opportunity for the Rangers to get back on track.