The Rangers skate in Montreal tonight against the Canadiens for the third and final meeting of the regular season.
Henrik Lundqvist blanked the Habs 2-0 at The Garden in early October to get his first of just two shutouts on the year. Montreal overwhelmed the Blueshirts when the teams met at the Belle Center in late October, scoring three times while outshooting the Rangers 19-2 in the first period on their way to a 5-4 victory.
It has been a struggle for both teams as of recent. Montreal has gone 0-4-2 in its last six while the Blueshirts have not garnered a point in their last four starts. Not to add salt to the wound, but the Rangers have not forced a game to overtime or a shootout since an OT win against Arizona on January 6th. That means nothing to show for in the 14 losses over that time in a league where, on every night, there are 3 points up for grabs.
Overall, it has been a disappointing season for both Montreal and the Rangers. Similar issues have haunted teams from the get-go. Goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist, who won’t play tonight, and Carey Price, who is doubtful for this evening, have been crucial to their respective teams’ success. This season, neither has put up the numbers that one has come to expect. Lundqvist has been victimized by early goals and lax coverage in front of him while injuries and inconsistency has marked the play of Price.
Not good when both teams are so accustomed to spectacular goaltending on a night-to-night basis.
In the off-season, both teams attempted to remake their blueline. Caught in the middle of playing a get-there-quick–and-move-it style or a hunker-down-and-defend system, neither team has played with an identity that has worked when it comes to defending. Up front, the center position has been a story of a lack of a true number one or perhaps even a number two. Center by committee has not worked for either team.
Finally, Max Pacioretty and Rick Nash were once again, looked to be catalysts when it came to goals. Pacioretty has 16, while Nash has 18. Not enough from either. So at the 60-game mark, both of these proud Original-6 franchises are on the outside looking in at the 2018 playoff picture, and in so many ways are mirror images of one another.
Nick Holden was dealt to Boston in the first of what is expected to be a number of moves general manager Jeff Gorton will make between now and the trade deadline. The Bruins added a valuable depth guy who can play either side on the blueline, who eats minutes, can kill penalties and above all is tremendously well-liked and respected by his teammates.
The Blueshirts receive in return, 24-year old defenseman Rob O’Gara, who will make his Ranger debut tonight and a third-round pick in this year’s amateur draft. The Long Island native has good size and mobility whose game has made steady improvements over the course of his two seasons as a pro. The downside? He grew up an Islanders fan. I guess you can’t have everything.
As we have seen numerous times, it is very easy to get swamped early in Montreal and the Rangers must do what they can to keep the crowd out of the game. As a matter of fact, as supportive as this crowd can be of their team, they will just as easily turn on them. Give the locals a reason to turn on, not support their team.
2. Protect Georgiev
Alexandar Georgiev will make his NHL debut in goal and well need as much help from his friends as he can get. Let him see the puck, box out opponents in the crease area and minimalize the second chance opportunities. Make his NHL debut a good one.
3. 5 on 5
The Rangers and Canadiens are both minus-23 when it comes to goals for/goals against while playing at even strength. That number is not very good, to say the least, and quite indicative of what has gone on this season. Not enough for either team.