Blueshirts Attempt to Keep Momentum Going in Minnesota

The Rangers are in St. Paul, Minnesota tonight to take on the Wild for the first time this season.

The Wild are the final team in the NHL that the Rangers have not yet faced and the Blueshirts are looking to extend a two-game winning streak. The back-to-back wins have come in a spirited, entertaining fashion. The victories have come with the trade deadline looming and on the heels of GM Jeff Gorton and President Glen Sather’s declaration that the Blueshirts would be looking to move present roster assets in an effort to rebuild for the future.

While you can’t underestimate the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist in the recent victories, one cannot help but wonder what role the wide-eyed, innocent play of newbies Neal Pionk and John Gilmour has played. And perhaps a fire has been lit in the locker room. Either way, the last two games have been played with an intensity and precision, seldom evident on too many nights prior to managements’ public statement.

The hits just keep on coming on the injury front as defenseman Steven Kampfer will miss the next 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured hand suffered against Winnipeg on Sunday. That will make it seven players who were on this season’s opening night roster who will not be in the lineup tonight. Those seven players had 2,756 games of NHL experience between them.

As far as Kempfer is concerned, you have to feel for the very likable journeyman defenseman. An extra body most of the season, at one point going 16 consecutive as a healthy scratch, he found himself in the thick of play due to the injuries on the blue line. He may have played his best game of the season logging a season-high 22:39 of ice time against Winnipeg only to suffer the injury.

There are times where it just isn’t fair and if there was ever a guy who didn’t deserve the fate that was cast upon him, it is Steven Kampfer.

The Wild, like the last Rangers opponent, Winnipeg, are a very good team at home. They sport a 19-4-5 record at Excel Energy Center. Minnesota and Las Vegas have the fewest losses in regulation at home, with just four setbacks. Eric Staal leads the Wild in scoring with 50 points and represented his team at this season’s All-Star Game. Acquired by the Rangers for the stretch run in February of 2016, Staal never really hit his stride as the Blueshirts were eventually bounced in the first found of the playoffs by Pittsburgh.

In fairness, the career center wasn’t given an extended look in the middle and in the ensuing off-season he signed a three-year free agent contract with Minnesota. A change in his off-season training regiment has led to a rejuvenated career for the oldest of the three NHL Staal brothers. It is too easy to look back, but could Eric Staal at his eventual contract price and/or term have fit into the present roster of Ranger centers? Just wondering.

KEYS

1. Keep ‘em to the Outside
The Wild are by and large a straight line that will funnel pucks and bodies towards the net upon entering the offensive zone. The Rangers need to protect the middle when coming back to defend and do their best to keep everything to the outside.

2. Body-on-Body
In all three zones being committed to playing the body will force the opposition to think that something is coming. The Wild are not an overly quick team and the opportunity to play the body will be there.

3. Power Play
In back-to-back wins, the power play has been good. It is obvious what role the two power-play goals against Calgary played in the 4-3 win on Friday. Despite going 0-for-4 against the Jets, the dominating possession and quality chances were impressive. If you are forcing the oppositions’ netminder to be the best penalty killer you are giving yourself a chance on the power play.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.