After returning from Chicago in the early hours Wednesday morning, the Rangers will prepare to take on Cale Makar and the Colorado Avalanche (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG2).
|5th||NHL Standing Rank||17th|
The Blueshirts came out victorious for their seventh straight win by the score of 6-2 over the Chicago Blackhawks. However, the story of the game is the health of Blackhawks forward Jujhar Khaira. In the second period, Khaira picked up the puck in his own zone with his head down and was absolutely leveled by Rangers’ defenseman Jacob Trouba. It was a clean hit with a very unfortunate outcome as Khaira didn’t see himself coming and couldn’t brace himself for the hit. The 27-year-old appeared to be knocked out cold as medical personnel rushed to his attention including Rangers’ head athletic trainer Jim Ramsay. Khaira was immediately transported to a local hospital. In a statement released by the Blackhawks on Wednesday, Khaira has been released from the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
“To my eye, it was all fairly clean,” said Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant. “But it’s just he had his head down big time, looking at the puck, and Troubs (Trouba) stepped into him… There was no intent to hurt the guy.”
In better news, Artemi Panarin recorded a four-point game including registering his 500th career point against the team he started his career with. Panarin’s first point came as a member of the Blackhawks against the Rangers.
Alexandar Georgiev made his second straight start in the absence of starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin. Georgiev recorded 24 saves in a winning effort on the road.
“He was solid tonight,” Gallant said. “The first one looks like a bad goal, but he never saw it… I thought he played strong. He made some key saves at key times on their power play. I’m really happy with him.”
The Rangers will now play the second leg of a back-to-back after returning to New York in the early hours of Wednesday. The big question Rangers fans have is who will start in the net for the Blueshirts? Gallant could opt to stick with Georgiev and played him in back-to-back nights. Or the head coach could opt to play 24-year-old Adam Huska who would be making his NHL debut. Huska has a .924 save percentage during his time with the Hartford Wolfpack this season.
Fans from around the league will be tuning in for a very specific matchup: Adam Fox vs Cale Makar. The two defensemen finished 1-2 in the Norris Trophy voting last season which saw Fox edge out Makar as the league’s top defender in his sophomore season. After a quarter of the season, the pair of defensemen appear to be favorites for the Norris Trophy in back-to-back seasons. Ranger fans see what Adam Fox means to them on a nightly basis on both ends of the ice. Makar is an exciting player and creates magic in the offensive zone like Fox. These two young defensemen are arguably the top two in the world and they will do battle for the first time since Fox’s rookie season. This will also be the first time the two teams have met since March 11, 2020. The sports world was shut down the next day due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fox is currently on a seven-game point streak including an assist in each game. But also, on a surge recently has been Ryan Strome. Strome has points in ten of the last eleven games and has 13 points in that stretch. The connection with Panarin has been a deadly duo over the past ten games.
With a win against the Avalanche, the Rangers would have 39 points and would finish the night at the top of the standings in the NHL. With 37 points, the Rangers sit just behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, and the Washington Capitals who are all currently tied with 38 points.
In other Rangers news, the Blueshirts have recently become the first NHL team valued at two billion dollars according to Forbes. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a recent sale pending that would see the team sold for about 900 million.
The Avalanche enter this game as the top-scoring team in the league. They are the only team averaging over four goals per game. Since the beginning of November, the Avalanche have played in 14 games and have scored at least four goals 11 times. Colorado is an offensive juggernaut and it will be challenging for the Rangers defense and goaltender – no matter who is the goaltender.
Colorado has one of the best lines in the NHL consisting of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan Mackinnon. The trio is each averaging over a point-per-game along with Makar. Not to be outdone by Fox, Makar has 14 points in his past nine games played. However, leading the Avalanche in points is Nazem Kadri. Kadri currently has 31 points in 21 games and he has 21 assists on the season.
The big move the Avalanche made in the offseason was the acquisition of goaltender Darcy Kuemper from Arizona. Colorado was in search of a goaltender after Phillip Grubauer opted to sign with Seattle. The Avalanche parted ways with 23-year-old Conor Timmins, a first-round pick in 2022, and a conditional third-round pick in 2024. The Avalanche gave up a premium for Kuemper and we will make his return from injury on Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden. Kuemper hasn’t played since November 26th. The 31-year-old is 9-5-0 with a .903 save percentage and a 2.84 goals-against average.
While Kuemper is back from injury, Colorado is still dealing with injuries from key players including J.T. Compher, Ryan Murray, and Bowen Byram. Byram was taken fourth overall in the 2019 draft and just two selections behind Kaapo Kakko. The 20-year-old was sent back to Colorado after experiencing post-concussion symptoms from a previous concussion.
What to Watch
While fans will be keeping a close eye on Fox and Makar, the thing to keep an eye on is the Rangers defense as a whole – more specifically if Gallant tries to match up Fox and Lindgren against the Avalanche top line. The Blueshirts have been winning games based on their ability to keep the puck out of the net. Playing against the best offensive team in the league, the Rangers don’t want to get into a shootout with them as that will favor Colorado. The Blueshirts may need a lot of goals to win on Wednesday night but if the entire defensive core can keep Colorado to the outside, they will give themselves a good shot at winning this hockey game. Expect a tough one against an Avalanche team that has had time to rest.