After a heartbreaking loss to the New Jersey Devils in a shootout Thursday the New York Rangers will continue their battle for positioning in the standings in a tightly contested Metro Division and Eastern Conference. The Blue Shirts take on the 21-14-1 Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at MSG in the last game before the Christmas break for the Rangers.
While the Rangers have gotten 7 out of an 8 possible points through their last four games it has come in large part because of Henrik Lundqvist’s sensational play. The team has done little to help him defensively as his last three games resulted in him making the most amount of saves ever in his career in a three game span including playoffs. Kevin Shattenkirk received sheltered minutes in the third period against New Jersey Thursday after his defensive struggles which have arisen multiple times this season.
Even the Rangers Captain Ryan McDonagh has not played up to standards for much of this season leaving the defensive corps weak and unreliable. King Henrik is doing his best to make up for their sloppy play but the defensive group needs to band together to prove this team is capable of something more than an early playoff exit.
Alain Vigneault is facing another challenge in structuring the lines after Jesper Fast suffered a leg injury against New Jersey. J.T. Miller is demoted to the fourth line and David Desharnais is being placed between Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello on the second.
Toronto will provide a formidable challenge in the difficult Eastern Conference. They will be getting an added boost of their superstar Austen Matthews as he returns to the lineup for Toronto tonight after missing six games due to a concussion.
Player to Watch
David Desharnais was not supposed to be such a prominent player on this team but after the injury to Mika Zibanejad and his solid ability to step in and play well he has proven worthy of a larger role. Desharnais will be playing with some greater skill between Nash and Zucc and could help the Rangers maintaining a balanced offensive attack.
The 5’6″ center has five points in his last five games with limited ice time — he has not received more than 15:12 TOI in the past five games.
Chris Kreider – Mika Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich
Rick Nash – David Desharnais – Mats Zuccarello
Michael Grabner – Kevin Hayes – Jimmy Vesey
Paul Carey – Boo Nieves – J.T. Miller
Ryan McDonagh – Nick Holden
Brady Skjei – Kevin Shattenkirk
Marc Staal – Brendan Smith