The New York Rangers (27-19-3) don't want to allow the injury excuse to creep into the reasons they've struggled as of late, but with only two wins in their past six games -- and an uncharacteristic 4-1 loss to a playoff-pushing Carolina team -- it's crucial for them to pick up points however they can as the first half of the season draws to a close. Tonight, they'll attempt to get back on track and return to "defense-first" hockey against the eighth-place Atlanta Thrashers (23-18-8).
The key part in this game will be New York improving upon its defensive effort from the past game in which too many breakdowns allowed for a number of odd-man rushes and prime scoring chances for the Hurricanes. In some sense, it was a wild game, unusual of the type of gritty performances the Rangers have flourished in this year. The Rangers will most certainly look to be tighter and simpler on defense tonight. The goals will come, so long as they keep creating the chances they've been getting as of late.
The last time the Rangers and Thrashers played each other was back on Oct. 27, a 6-4 Thrashers victory that saw the Rangers cut a three-goal deficit with 15 minutes left in the third period down to one (an empty netter made it a two-goal loss).
With all of the nitpicking of the Rangers' play of late, the Thrashers have played worse, with five losses in their past six games (that included one overtime loss, one shootout loss and a shootout victory). Over this stretch, they've allowed 28 goals. After allowing four or more goals in four straight appearances, Ondrej Pavelec seems to have found his early season form again, with only two goals against in his past two. The Thrashers are led points-wise by a group of defenseman -- Dustin Byfuglien (16 goals, 25 assists) and Tobias Enstrom (eight goals, 32 assists). Andrew Ladd is the only other player with over 30 points; he's got 38 points and is tied with Byfuglien for the team lead in goals.
The top two lines (Sean Avery-Artem Anisimov-Marian Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello) will remain the same, while youngster Chad Kolarik, who had an impressive Rangers' debut, will join the Brandon Prust-Brian Boyle combination. Brodie Dupont will make his NHL debut tonight on the fourth line, with Dale Weise being a healthy scratch.
Henrik Lundqvist will be between the pipes tonight for the Blueshirts.