Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nik Returns! Antropov and Thashers tonight

Finally – intermission is over and there’s a Ranger Hockey on the docket tonight. It sure seems like a long time since the Saturday night loss to Vancouver, doesn’t it? The Rangers return to the Garden tonight short two centers – Dubinsky’s hand is broken and Drury was sent home yesterday – still not right from his concussion.

We need to rise up and show something. And we need to stop being victims and targets. I hate saying this - but I sure hope Brashear can play - because we need his protection to play our best. (I wonder - when Brashear is rehabbing does he practice skating - or throwing punches?). This is a different Ranger team when Brashear sits out - and not in a good way.
We also need some non-Gaborik player to start scoring goals. Kotalik has 6 goals and no one else more than 4. We have to get something going on the 2nd and 3rd lines.

And as an added bonus - our opponent tonight brings with them former Ranger Nik Antropov. When Nik was on a hot streak last year he was fun to watch – but when he wasn’t… well, that - and his contract demands are why he isn't here any more.

Who The Hell Are We Playing? The Atlanta Thrashers have an Injured Captain problem of their own, having lost Ilya Kovalchuk for the past 6 games with a broken foot. In 14 games the Thrashers are 7-6-1, in 12th place in the Eastern conference.

Primary Skaters: Atlanta's Kovalchuck traveled with the team to New York – so it is possible he'll play tonight. Despite missing 6 of the teams 14 games – he leads the Thrashers with 9 goals – just one assist though – I guess he doesn't pass much. Their assist leader is ex-Ranger Nik Antropov, who has 13 – but Nik has no goals so far this year. Rich Peverly is their overall points leader with 17 (10 G, 7 A).

In Net: It's a tale of two goalies for Atlanta. Ondrej Pavelec has a 3.17 GAA and a .909 save % in 12 games. This is kind of interesting – to save 90% of your shots and let in more than 3 a game – your team is letting up a lot of shots on goal. Johan Hedberg has a (better) 2.70 GAA and a .917 save % in 5 games.

Scoring & Defense: Atlanta is the first team we’ve faced in a while that outscores us. They average 3.42 goals a game to our 3.11. (Of course our number has been heading south lately.)
The defense favors us. The Thrashers let in 3.21 goals a game to our 2.67. As we noted – Atlanta lets up 34.4 shots per game – the 2nd highest number in the league

Special Effects: On the PowerPlay, Atlanta is the league’s 8th best with a 22.8% success rate. Rangers are 5th best at 23.3%. Shorthanded, the Thrashers are 10th best, getting through 82.5% of their shorthanded situations successfully. The Rangers, to my continued surprise, are the leagues 2nd best with a 86.6% prevent rate. So the special teams favor us.

Scheduling Conflicts: We’ve been resting and making trips to the hospital since Saturday night. It’s been our longest game-less stretch since the season began. But the Thrashers have had it almost as good – their last game was Sunday – a home win against the Blues 3-2.
So you’ve got two well rested teams facing off tonight at MSG.

Probable Lines: It looks like the early word we got from Glen Sather about Higgins at center was typical Slats – incorrect and disconnected from his own team. Tortorella – correctly – is giving the current Ranger centers a chance to step up and show something:

Line 1: Lisin-Prospal-Gaborik. We’ve seen this before and it has worked. Clearly Dubi won’t be back for a while.

Line 2: Higgins-Anisimov-Kotalik. “Anis” steps up to line 2 – and maybe Higgins can keep on the upswing.

Line 3: Avery-Boyle-Callahan. This is where we really start hurting in the middle. But it’s a hard working tough minded bunch that I’ll be curious to watch in action.

Line 4: Brashear-Voros-Byers. Three tough guys – and well need this after the way we got pushed around in Vancouver. Dane Byers leads the Rangers in penalty minutes after just 4 games with the club. Brashear finally back is a good thing – like it or not we’re much better with him than without him.

On Defense: Still the “Original Six”

In Goal: Hank sat out two straight with an undisclosed lower body injury – but should be back tonight. Valiquette is looking less and less like a strong back up.

Dave Puck Predicts: I know we're short on Centers right now - but If Lundqvist plays and if Gaborik plays and if Brashear plays - we will win. And I'm saying 4-3. But then again - I always predict Ranger wins - because that's what fans do.

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