Trailing Washington by just a point for the final wild-card spot, both teams find themselves out of a playoff position with 22 points, with Carolina having played two fewer games.
Historically speaking, there is an observation where a team resides in the NHL standings at Thanksgiving is largely indicative of whether it is bound for playoffs. It is the first time in some while that the Blueshirts are in a precarious situation if one is to buy into the Thanksgiving “historically speaking” thing.
The Rangers are coming off a solid, patient win against an Ottawa team that plays at times, a mind-numbing shutdown game, especially during the regular season. Led by Henrik Lundqvist who recorded his 63rd career shutout, the Blueshirts prevailed by a 3-0 count. Lundqvist will make his 10th consecutive start tonight. He has gotten his game in order and the team is going to need consistent top-flight goaltending from the King as this thing moves on. The schedule continues to be conducive to riding Lundqvist, and you have to ride your top player in order to give yourself the best chance at establishing any playoff breathing room.
For the first time this season, an injury will compromise the line-up as Ryan McDonagh will miss tonight’s game with what is being termed an abdominal strain. The severity and how much time the captain will miss as a result has yet to be acknowledged. Make no mistake, if this injury turns out to be one that keeps Ryan on the shelf for any extended time, the Ranger blueline is severely impacted.
McDonagh plays in all situations and as a result, leads the team in time on ice. After some early season struggles, McDonagh has gotten his game back on the track that we have grown accustomed to. Next to Lundqvist, he is the teams most important player. A quick, healthy recovery will be of utmost importance.
Many preseason predictions included an improving Carolina Hurricanes team. At the quarter pole, those predictions have proved not far off the mark. They may have the best young defensive groups in the league, led by Justin Faulk and Jaccob Slavin. Up front, Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho at 23 and 20 years of age lead the charge. This is a well-coached, hard-working and disciplined team that is on their way after missing the playoffs for the past five consecutive seasons.
Playing without Ryan McDonagh makes life defending a little more difficult. The six ‘D’ in the lineup will have to keep it simple, minimize the running around and collectively make up for the absence of their captain.
2. Special Teams
Over the past four games, Carolina’s power play has scored four times while the Rangers penalty kill over their last four games has given up three goals. Tightening up the play on the penalty kill will be something to keep an eye on.
3. Ranger Center Depth
If you consider a Jordan Staal-Mika Zibanejad matchup to be one of a battle of equals, the matchups beyond that down the middle should favor the Rangers. Kevin Hayes has played well as of late and should have an opportunity once again to make to make a difference.