BY: DAVID KOLB
NEW YORK RANGERS (27-13-1) @ COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (27-6-4)
CHASING FIRST PLACE
Tonight the Rangers head to Columbus where they will face the Blue Jackets in a Metropolitan Division battle. The Blueshirts take the ice trailing by five points behind the division-leading Jackets, making tonight’s tilt a huge game in the standings. The Rangers have won four of their past five games, including Wednesday’s 5-2 win in over the Flyers. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets had their winning streak snapped at 16 games Thursday, falling 5-0 to the Washington Capitals.
Rangers’ forward J.T. Miller picked up two assists in New Yorks match against the Flyers, extending his point streak to four games (a career-best) and seven points (three goals, four assists). Miller takes the ice tonight red-hot, looking to improve on his first half totals of 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points.
Most top-notch NHL clubs typically have a breakout player that accomplished what few expected. This season, Alex Wennberg is “that guy” for the Jackets. He’s scored eight goals (already matching his career-best season totals) with 26 assists for 34 points, making him only six short of his career-high of 40 points. Furthermore, the 22-year-old Swede takes the ice with a hot hand, as he has two goals and three assists in his past five games.
HEY-HEY-HAYES SCORES AGAIN
Kevin Hayes snapped a 12-game goal drought Wednesday, lighting the lamp twice against the Flyers. Hayes now has seven points in his last five games (two goals, five assists) and 13 goals with 17 assists for 30 points on the season.
LEADING THE WAY
Through 37 games, Cam Atkinson leads the Jackets in scoring with 18 goals and 20 assists for 38 points. Last year he produced 53 points, only 15 more that his current total and a career-best. Atkinson enters tonight’s tilt with three goals in his past three games while notching an assist in the first meeting against the Rangers earlier this season.