The Rangers will kick off the first of four consecutive starts on home ice when they face the Detroit Red Wings tonight at Madison Square Garden.
The Blueshirts have won their last six straight home games, a significant turn of events from the start of the season when they managed just two wins in the first eight games at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” Events at The Garden including The Grammy’s, will force the Rangers to play 18 of their final 45 games on the road so they need to keep getting while the getting is good on home ice.
The Rangers are coming off a 6-1 win in Carolina that saw them play their best hockey over the final two periods after securing a 3-1 first period lead. A large part of the victory was the play of defenseman Brendan Smith. The veteran Smith has been a healthy scratch in eight of the team’s first 22 games. With Ryan McDonagh out of the lineup due to injury Smith had his best outing of the year. He made a beautiful pass to set up Chris Kreider for the game’s opening goal, played a season-high 19:56 while going plus-4 on the night.
Smith was a good player for the Rangers after being acquired from tonight’s opponent at last year’s trade deadline. Signed to a lucrative free agent contract in the offseason, Smith’s conditioning was an issue at training camp. He has done a nice job of hanging in there with a good, hard-working attitude and looks poised to be the guy the Rangers need on the back end as the season moves along.
The Red Wings come to town sporting a 10-9-3 record, good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division. If the regular season ended today that would mean the playoffs for the crew from the Motor City, something that was not the case last spring after 25 consecutive postseason appearances.
The rebuild continues in Detroit and the team is led by a couple of guys who can get around the ice in a hurry, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou. Larkin, who arrived with a splash as a rookie two seasons ago, seems to be back on track after a disappointing sophomore campaign. Athanasiou’s whose contract negotiations kept him out of the line up for the first 10 games, has eight points in 12 games since his return.
3 KEYS TO RANGERS-RED WINGS
1. Force Red Wings D
Detroit’s blueline is, by and large, a little older, not quite as mobile nor as physical as some in the league. The Ranger forwards will create offensive opportunities by forcing this group of defensemen to move to defend.
2. Manage the Middle of the Ice
While the back end may not be quite as mobile, there is an awful lot of speed in their group of forwards. Allowing Detroit free reign and open ice in the neutral zone plays into the strength of their team. Managing the middle of the ice will be important.
3. Puck Possession
When it comes to the puck, it’s pretty simple. If you have it the other team doesn’t. The Rangers were good with the puck over the course the final two periods against Carolina. It worked then against the Hurricanes and it will work tonight against the Red Wings.