The Rangers take on the Ducks tonight in Anaheim for the second and final time of the regular season this evening.
Both teams are coming off losses, as the Rangers fell to Los Angeles on Sunday, 4-2, while Anaheim took were dealt a 6-2 setback by San Jose.
In Los Angeles, the Rangers saw a very solid first period where they established a 2-0 lead fall by the wayside in the first ten minutes of the second period when the Kings scored three successive power play goals. The worm was turning late in the opening period as Los Angeles was beginning to assert some home-ice authority, but the tide really turned as a result of a questionable penalty taken by Brendan Smith as the period ended. Smith, in an admirable attempt to protect his defense partner, Anthony DeAngelo, drew a roughing penalty then fought a non-fighter in the Kings forward Adrien Kempe. The point here is this. While there have been times this season where this team has been guilty of not protecting one another that was not the time.
You are on the road playing a solid period with zero need to give the opponent any reason to get emotionally involved. The fight got the Kings all fired up as they left the ice and that emotion carried over into the first 10 minutes of the middle period and a 2-0 lead became a 3-2 deficit. Game. Set. Match.
Smith was also in the middle of another first-period story when he was hit along the boards by Kings forward Kyle Clifford. Clifford was given a two-minute charging penalty. Upon further video review, it was clear that the point of contact of the hit was Smith’s head. There was no supplementary discipline much to the chagrin of the inhabitants of Rangerville. The reason? The hit was deemed to be within the time allowed to make a hit, relative to where the puck was at the time of the hit. The check-off point is .6 seconds. Any hit delivered beyond that point moves to the next step in the process. This hit was deemed to be at .45 seconds. No further review. So one can debate why the timing is the first step in the process but that is the way it works and a dangerous hit went without supplementary discipline.
The Ducks have battled serious injuries to key players all season, but will field a healthy lineup tonight. Leading the way will be Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rikell. They presently sit in the fifth wild-card spot in the West trailing Colorado by three points. They are three points behind Calgary for third place in the Pacific. The Ducks have had the best cumulative record over the past 10 seasons in the second half of the regular season. This is a very good team with a lot of key parts. I would be very surprised not to see the Ducks in the postseason and they will be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender if they do get in.
1. Down the Middle
The Rangers will need their centers to bring their “A” game this evening. They will once again play without Kevin Hayes. Let by Getzlaf and Ryan Kessler, the Ducks may have to deepest and biggest four down the middle of any team in the league.
2. Work Gibson
In their last game a loss to San Jose, netminder John Gibson seemed to fight the puck and allowed goals thru the body. If all else fails, get the puck towards the Ducks’ netminder. Make him be work to be better.
3. Penalty Kill
A very effective penalty kill has come to a screeching halt giving up five goals against in the last three games. Better reads and better puck placement will get this thing back on track.