The New York Rangers will face a second straight team playing on the back end of a back-to-back in the Nashville Predators on Tuesday. night (7:30 p.m. EST, NBCSN). The Blueshirts are looking to regain some of their consistency and lost momentum from over the past week, while the Preds are coming off a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders. New York (28-11-4) has lost two of three, while Nashville (26-15-4) has won five straight and eight of nine.
Being tied for the league lead in points with 60, the Rangers have definitely enjoyed the first 43 games of their season. They've hit a slight rut in their performance this past week, however, as they scored only five goals over their last four games. More disconcerting was their defensive play at the the Belle Center, the home of the Montreal Canadiens and a place the Rangers have not won at in six tries (0-5-1), on Sunday. It was the sloppiest the Rangers looked in their own end the entire season, with lazy clearing attempts, not enough puck support and not enough man-on-man coverage. Giving up the second-fewest goals in the NHL -- obviously on the heels of exceptional, fundamental work on defense and stellar goaltending -- this one bad performance appears like just a minor blip in the radar. Lose focus for several more games, however, and the facts will change.
The Blueshirts have struggled to score lately, and the problem begins with their top two lines. Marian Gaborik has one goal and two points over his last nine games. Brad Richards has gone four straight games (as has Ryan Callahan) without a point and has five points in his last 15. As coach John Tortorella seeks to find some offensive punch, some line reshuffling should be expected Tuesday night.
New York's quest to find more scoring faces a very difficult test in the Predators -- and more specifically netminder Pekka Rinne, who has one loss in his last nine games (same mark as Nashville). He's also allowed two or fewer goals in five consecutive as the Preds have played some lights-out hockey lately. It's not a particularly high-scoring bunch, as stud blueliner Shea Weber leads the team with 32 points and David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist pace the team in goals with 12, but they're solid defensively and rely on one of the best between the pipes. The Rangers do catch a break in that blue-chip defenseman Ryan Suter is out with an upper-body injury.