The Nashville Predators (31-22-5) continue their swing through the Big Apple with a pit stop at Madison Square Gardens to play the New York Rangers (26-26-7) tonight at 6 p.m. Central.
The game will be a critical test for the Preds who have gone 2-6-2 in their last ten games that includes a horrible 4-3 loss to the Islanders last night in a shoot out in a game that never should have gone to overtime.
The Rangers have also struggled going 3-7 in their last ten games but are coming off of a 3-1 win over New Jersey on Saturday at the Gardens.
The biggest story for the Rangers is whether their top producer, Marian Gaborik (35 goals, 34 assists), will be able to play after he received a deep cut to his right leg when he collided with Henrik Lundqvist in Tuesday's practice.
The Preds will face Olli Jokinen for the fifth time this season after he came over from the Calgary Flames in a trade last week.
The Predators will be without Marcel Goc who remains in Nashville recuperating from an upper body injury.
This is the only meeting of the year between the two teams. Their last meeting was March 12, 2009 in Nashville when the Rangers won 4-2.
Dan Ellis (11-11-1, 2.66, .910) will be in goal for the Predators and Olympian Henrik Lundqvist (23-21-6, 2.43, .919) will start for the Rangers.
Predator's Keys to the Game
D I S C I P L I N E...
Words cannot describe the seriousness of the meltdowns in discipline in the Predator's previous two games. The textbook boarding infractions by Dan Hamhuis on Saturday and Marty Erat last night cost the Predators a minimum of a point in each of the two games.
Alltogether, the Preds had seven penalties in the game against the Islanders and none were ones that could be tolerated by the Predators coaches. The Predators are ranked first in the league in fewest penalties and have wandered off from the needed discipline that got them to that point to begin with.
The Rangers are a rough and tumble team and are second in the NHL in hits so there will be plenty of opportunity for the Preds not to respond in an inappropriate manner. The Preds need to play with an aggressive style, but need to be careful not to give the Rangers unnecessary opportunities on the power play.
Penalty Kill Improvement...
Albeit both power play goals that the Islanders scored last night were on the two man advantage, the Predators penalty kill unit looked disheveled and out of sync. Had they been able to kill either of the two opportunities, the Preds would have come out of the game with a victory and an additional point.
The Rangers have an average power play unit (12th in the NHL, 18.6%) but are exceptional on home ice (3rd, 23.8%). They are also on a hot streak, going five for nine in the last two games. The Predators have given up power play goals in seven of the last eight games being successfully killing only 23 of 34 opportunities.
The Predators plunge down the Western Conference standings will continue if special teams do not improve immediately.
No Lapses on Defense...
The Predator's defense has suffered from inconsistency for the entire season. There have been far too many lapses and breakdowns in coverage and too much screening in front of the Predator goalies to be successful on a long term basis.
Recently, both Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis have had to be near perfect and have outstanding games in order to make up for shoddy defense in front of the net. On so many occasions this season, the average fan can see one coverage breakdown lead to another knowing that an opponent goal is imminent.
If the development is that easy to see from the stands or on television, the players involved have to realize that is is happening in their own midst. The team needs to get back to the basics and cover the area and the players that they are supposed to cover and not lay so much on the goalies to carry the load.
The Preds will brave the snow and head to New Jersey for a game on Friday night.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass