Rangers @ Senators
7:30 p.m. Thursday
Rangers record: 16-12-1
Senators record: 12-15-2
The Rangers head up to Ottawa to complete their second home-and-home set in as many weeks. Although the Rangers came away with the decisive win in the second game of the home-and-home against the Islanders, the three-day gap between the first game of this set against the Senators and Thursday’s game is bound to be a momentum killer—that is, if the Rangers had any momentum to speak of from Sunday’s game.
The Rangers’ lackluster performance in the first period of Sunday’s contest ensured an eventual Senators victory and left the Rangers with a lot to think about in the coming days. John Tortorella, for his part, ran two grueling practices which saw the team participating in power play scenarios for half an hour straight, and met personally with all of the team’s centers. In other news, captain Chris Drury skated in Wednesday’s practice, albeit in an orange, non-contact jersey. Drury is still at least two weeks away from joining the Rangers line-up.
In the meantime, the first line carousel ride continues as Tortorella yet again switched up Marian Gaborik’s line mates. Derek Stepan will get another chance at centering the Rangers’ elusive top line, and Ruslan Fedotenko will be skating alongside him. According to the coach, Fedotenko leads the team in key scoring chances. Fedotenko’s former line mate, Brandon Prust, comes in a close second. Since Fedotenko will be bumped up to the first line, Sean Avery will sink back down the third line with Prust and Brian Boyle, and Erik Christensen is expected to start on the fourth line with Derek Boogaard and Alex Frolov. On defense, a reported Michal Rozsival illness opens up a roster spot for Matt Gilroy, if he is needed come game time.
As for Gaborik himself: Two hat tricks in three weeks is impressive, but two hat tricks against teams such as the Islanders and the Oilers is markedly less so. Fairly or unfairly, Gaborik is counted upon to carry the weight of this team’s offense on his shoulders, and he needs to start showing consistency. Furthermore, even though Gaborik’s stream of line mates has been anything but stable this season, Tortorella insists that “some of the onus is on Gabby” get help his teammates to produce more, too.
If the Rangers’ offense has been struggling, the Senators’ offense has been downright abysmal. The Sens sit firmly in 28th place in the league with a low, 2.14 goals per game average. Before Tuesday night’s game against the Canadiens, Ottawa had only managed to steal one goal from opposing goaltenders in their past four games, aside from Chris Kelly’s hat trick at MSG—and a steal it was, considering that lone goal was knocked in by an opposing player. The Senators’ top six forwards managed to score a grand total of zero points last week, and although he leads the team in points, Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson produced no points in his last eight games. This pointless streak surpasses Alfredsson’s career low set in his rookie year. Another telling sign of the Senators’ persistent offensive woes is the demotion of former Ranger and all-star Alex Kovalev to the team’s fourth line.
Luckily for the Blueshirts, they have a chance Thursday night to rebound against the very team that embarrassed them at home on Sunday. As long as the Rangers step onto the ice prepared to put forth a full, sixty-minute effort, they should be able to take advantage of this struggling Ottawa squad and earn a league-leading eleventh road win.