The New York Rangers continue their four-game week with a tilt that begins a three games in four nights stretch with a clash with the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m. EST, MSG) on Thursday night. The game, No. 41, also marks the midpoint of their season -- one that's seen them rise above the rest in the NHL with 58 points (27-9-4 overall record). They will also hit the road for a two-game Canada trip once this one wraps up.
Coach John Tortorella and the rest of his players shrug off the good start, saying the NHL doesn't award anything for being the best team at this point in the season. But there's something to be said for laying a very solid foundation for the second half of the season, and New York has most definitely done this. No game means more than the other in the grand scheme of things, but none are less important, either, and the Rangers need to keep carrying out what's been successful for them in the first half to continue to be a top-tier playoff team. New York has won five in a row and 10 of 11.
The lines have been relatively balanced, but Marian Gaborik has one goal in the past six games and Artem Anisimov hasn't had a point in eight straight, so it would be nice to see this line put more pucks in the net like it was doing for such a long period prior to this mini slump.
The Senators present a very stiff challenge, as they've won six of their last seven games. After a poor 32-40-10 record last year, the Sens are now fifth in the Eastern Conference, eight games over .500, with 52 points. Coach Paul MacLean has his troops playing a very uptempo, down-the-ice style, resulting in them being the seventh-highest scoring team in the league (three spots ahead of the Rangers). Deserved or not, Ottawa has four Al-Stars: Jason Spezza, who leads the team with 44 points, stud sophomore defenseman Erik Karlsson, who is second on the team with 41 points, veteran Daniel Alfredsson, third with 30 points, and leading goal scorer (22), Milan Michalek.
What has cost Ottawa this season has been a weak defensive blue line and some unsteady play from goaltender Craig Anderson. Anderson does have 21 wins, but also sports a subpar 3.08 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. Through the last two months, however, the keeper has accumulated a 2.64 GAA and .918 SV%, so he's been better lately.
The Rangers won the last meeting between these two teams Nov. 9, 3-2 in Ottawa, but lost the game in Ottawa late in October, 5-4 in a shootout -- meaning this one should be another close tilt. The Sens are the best third-period team in the NHL, with six comebacks in the last 20 minutes, so if there's a game New York can't let it's foot off the pedal, this is it.