At the very least, New York Rangers fans are guaranteed at least one cheer tonight if Derek Stepan gets a tribute on the Madison Square Garden video boards.
They’ll take whatever they can get, as the reeling Rangers faceoff against the likewise hapless Arizona Coyotes tonight at MSG (7:00, MSG). It’s the first time the two teams will square off since a summer trade sent Stepan, a 2008 Rangers second round pick, to Arizona, along with goalie Antti Raanta, in exchange for defenseman Tony DeAngelo (optioned to Hartford yesterday). Also sent over was Arizona’s first-round pick at seventh overall, where the Rangers took Lias Andersson, who is currently in Sweden.
The Rangers (2-6-2) recently saw a three-game point streak end in a lifeless 4-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Monday night. The Rangers fell behind 4-0, speared on via two points by Logan Couture. The Rangers power play unit went 0-for-6 on the evening, as the team as a whole was stymied by a 37-save output from Martin Jones. The Rangers only broke through in the third period, when Mika Zibanejad put in his sixth goal of the season.
It seems hard to fathom, but the Coyotes (0-8-1) are off to an even uglier start than the Rangers. Winless through nine games, it’s their worst start in franchise history, one that got worse when they lost 5-3 to the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. Another ex-Ranger, Anthony Duclair, put in an early goal gave Arizona a 1-0 lead, while Mario Kempe and Nick Cousins tied the game with second period goals. They were, however, unable to stop a John Tavares hat trick, giving them a loss in the first part of an Eastern road trip that will also take them to New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
This will be the first of two annual meetings between the Rangers and Coyotes this season, with the Rangers last season’s set. The MSG matchup was a 3-2 final in October, while the rematch in Arizona in December was won in a 6-3 margin. JT Miller had a goal in each. The second metting will come on January 6.
According to head coach Alain Vigneault, Ondrej Pavelec will get his second start as a Ranger tonight. Pavelec last played on October 13, when he gave up three goals on 19 shots in the Rangers’ 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. With Raanta injured, rookie Adin Hill is expected to make his third start of the season for Arizona. Hill last played played on October 19 at Gila River Arena against Dallas, stopping 25 shots in a 5-4 loss.
Through nine games, Stepan, who spent his entire career as a Ranger before the summer trade, has two goals and five assists. Read up on his top five moments as a Ranger here.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490