UPDATE: According to multiple reports, Steve Valliquette will be in net tonight as Henrik Lundqvist gets some rest. Aaron Voros is also a scratch and it appears that rookie Mike DelZotto will be staying with the big club, according to a report from Steve Zipay of Newsday.
Rangers v. Sharks
7 PM, Madison Square Garden
Rangers Record: 7 - 1 - 0
Sharks Record: 4 - 3 - 1
What a difference a trade makes.
During the summer, it appeared by all accounts that former Ottawa Senator Dany Heatley would be a Ranger by training camp following his offseason trade request.
The Rangers freed the necessary cap space by sending center Scott Gomez to Montreal for the lesser-expensive Chris Higgins and seemed poised to bring in the maligned winger. However, the deal broke down late and the Rangers went out and signed the oft-injured Marian Gaborik.
Heatley was eventually sent to San Jose and the rest is history.
The move (or lack thereof) has turned into a blessing of sorts. The Rangers are atop the NHL standings while San Jose is teetering in the eighth spot in the West.
Gaborik is averaging greater than a point-per-game and commanding the power play. Heatley has been streaky thus far, though putting up good numbers alongside center Joe Thorton.
Perhaps the most perplexing part of the Sharks season has been the teams they've lost to. An opening night loss to the surprise Colorado Avalanche, another loss in Los Angeles, then back-to-back losses against Phoenix and Washington.
Not shabby teams by record, but teams that the Sharks were expected to defeat.
San Jose, by all accounts, has a top-notch roster that should match up with the top teams in the league. Yet, they have not found their groove with their bottom six forwards hence the inconsistent results.
Aside from Heatley and Thorton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setagouchi have contributed early.
The Sharks also sport a potent defense led by Dan Boyle, who has one goal and six assists on the season. Veteran Rob Blake has a goal and two assists, but has struggled on the defensive side of the puck as a -3.
A bright spot for the Sharks on the blueline has been with youngster Jason Demers. Demers has collected three assists and is a +3 on the season.
For the Rangers, they are riding a seven game winning streak, with the most recent victories coming against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings.
While 14 points is a number that any Ranger can be happy with, the last couple games haven't been of first-place caliber. The team has looked laggard at points and lost many of the loose puck battles that made them successful early on.
So Head Coach John Tortorella has made some tweaks. Snake-bitten Chris Higgins will move to the third line with Artem Anisimov and Ales Kotalik while Sean Avery will skate with Chris Drury and and Ryan Callahan.
The move should provide an interesting look for both players. Avery will not be the focus on the second line so he should be able to create some more offensive opportunities.
Higgins will also face a different caliber player on the third line, so he equally should have some more time to make a play and create the offense he has been missing thus far in the season.
Consider also, the Rangers have had an abundance of scoring so Higgins' role is as important defensively as it is offensively. To that point he has been successful.
On the defensive end, tonight is Mike DelZotto's ninth game, the last game he can play without his first year counting against his professional contract. At this point, it would be a shock if he were returned.
Overall, the Rangers defense has been sharp, including the play of Wade Redden. While their coverage in the defensive zone isn't quite together, their breakout and transition game is much more fluid than in the recent past.
A team like San Jose, however, could force a lot of pressure in the Rangers end and this season, that has resulted in some scrambling and loss of positioning.
The scrambling has also resulted in several penalties. The Rangers have killed penalties well, but taken some questionable ones at inopportune times. Against the better times, this will catch up with them.
On the power play, the Rangers continue to tally which is an impressive change from last season. However, there are spurts where the "pretty play" is forced over the shot and drive to the net.
Tortorella has done a terrific job in getting players to the net on the power play, at points all three forward will be between the goal line and crease.
Henrik Lundqvist, who has shined in the last two games, will likely get the start tonight.
Stay tuned on Twitter for in-game updates...