Rangers Have Sights Set on Bounce-Back Effort vs. Senators

The Rangers are in Ottawa this afternoon to face the Senators for the third and final time this season.

The teams have split the first two meetings with each having won on home ice. In terms of the playoff picture, both of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinalists are on the outside looking in. Both teams are looking to the future what with disappointment being the common denominator within each team’s season.

The Blueshirts are coming off back-to-back losses against Minnesota and the Islanders. Against the Wild, the Rangers turned the puck over early and often enough to fall into a 3-0 hole within the opening six minutes of the game. Despite a spirited, sustained effort over the course of remaining time, a two-goal rally wasn’t enough in the 3-2 loss.

The spirited effort would continue in Brooklyn on Thursday night against the Islanders, but to no better result. Despite peppering netminder Jaroslav Halak with 50 shots, the Rangers could not find the back of the net and fell, 3-0, to their crosstown rival. At the end of the day, like many nights on the season, the game breaker was an opponent.

Not to discount Halak’s role but in this tight, emotional contest when a play had to be made up ice it was made by Islander rookie Mathew Barzal. With three assists on the night, Barzal has eight points in his last two games against the Rangers. He will need to book a ticket to the NHL postseason awards night where he will pick up his rookie-of-the-year trophy. Barzal is a dynamic player, one that the Blueshirts will be facing for many years to come.

In an entertaining fashion, the Rangers have gone 2-2-0 since management proclaimed that looking to the future would be the theme heading into the trade deadline. Injuries continue to compromise the lineup, but you can’t help but be impressed with the skilled play of recalled defensemen, Neal Pionk and John Gilmour. Both have brought speed and precision to play in the defensive zone and the team has spent less time in their own end as a result. Whether Pionk or Gilmour is the long-term answer or not will yet be determined, but they have given a refreshing look at how you would like to be when playing in the defensive zone. Get to the puck quickly, move it quickly, move it smartly. Really good stuff.

Acquired this week from Los Angeles for Dion Phaneuf, ex-Ranger Marian Gaborik made a quick impression in his debut as a Senators by scoring and adding an overtime assist in Ottawa’s 3-2 win Thursday against Buffalo. Gaborik is one of only four active players to have accumulated 400 goals and 400 assists. He finds himself on a list that includes Sidney Crosby, Patrick Marleau and Alex Ovechkin. Pretty lofty company for one of the hockey’s good guys.

[Watch Rangers-Senators Today at 1:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download free.]

KEYS

1. Neutral Zone

Ottawa is a team that likes to dictate the pace of play through the middle of the ice by clogging it up and pouncing on opponents’ turnovers. The Rangers need to be alert in the neutral zone on both sides of the puck.

2. Beware of 65

You cannot play Ottawa and forget about Erik Karlsson. He has not had the season the Senators have needed from him, but lingering issues due to offseason surgery have played a large role in his play. He remains the most dangerous player on the ice and must be paid attention to.

3. Mika

With just two goals and no assists in his last nine games, Mika Zibanejad needs to be better. While he is even further removed from the franchise that drafted and developed him, here’s hoping that there is still a “show them” attitude that will motivate Zibanejad to be the player the Rangers need him to be.

[Watch Rangers-Senators Saturday at 1:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Download free.]

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.