Rangers @ Thrashers
Philips Arena, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Rangers record: 29-23-4
Thrashers record: 24-22-10
The Blueshirts know that tomorrow night’s game is a must win.
Both players and fans alike had hoped that this might be the year that the Rangers comfortably slid into the playoffs without having to fight tooth and nail for the one of the bottom playoff positions, but the team’s five-game losing streak seems to have temporarily put an end to that dream. The Rangers have not been playing badly; their forty-seven shots on against the Red Wings Monday night can attest to the fact that the team has been generating a steady offensive threat. The team has continued to demonstrate commendable effort and passion, but unfortunately, at this point in the season all of the Rangers need are points in the standings.
Like the first time these two teams met this season, the Thrashers are in a situation very similar to the Rangers. After starting off the season as one of the Eastern Conference’s surprise contenders, the Thrashers have dropped four straight and have just two wins in thirteen games. Like the Rangers, the Thrashers have been slipping dangerously low in the standings. Unlike the Rangers, the Thrashers are currently out of a playoff position.
The Thrashers also only lost Monday night’s game by a one-goal margin, but the Thrashers scored twice as many goals in their game as the Blueshirts did in theirs. Dustin Byfuglien, despite going thirteen games without a single point prior to Monday’s game, leads the Thrashers in goals and points coming into Friday night’s game. (He also leads the league in goals scored by a defenseman.) Andrew Ladd is another player who broke a goal-scoring draught, tallying the fourth and final Thrashers’ goal for his first in seven games. Ex-Ranger Nik Antropov scored the third goal for the Thrashers, and Brian Little came up big with two assists. Both Antropov and Little have been racking up steady points for the otherwise sinking Atlanta team.
Captain Chris Drury’s luckless season of injuries took another turn for the worse when Coach Tortorella announced after Wednesday’s practice that Drury would undergo exploratory knee surgery and miss up to six weeks of action. Although Drury has not posed much of an offensive threat for the Rangers, this latest installment in the Drury injury saga will undoubtedly leave a mental mark on this team.
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start in net for the Blueshirts after being pulled in the February 3rd game against the Devils and sitting out in favor of backup Marty Biron against the Canadiens and the Red Wings. Lundqvist usually has stellar bounce-back games, and he will definitely be counted upon to come up big for his team tomorrow night in Atlanta.
The Rangers held two practices since the last game, putting heavy emphasis on the woeful power play. The Rangers’ power play is currently 3 for 31, and the Rangers went 0 for 9 on the man-advantage in the past two games. Tortorella tried Wojtek Wolski on the point for the first power play unit and placed Derek Stepan back on the point for the second. Both Wolski and Stepan have experienced great success on the power play point earlier in their careers.
The playoff race has begun, and the Rangers and the Thrashers are two struggling teams fighting for the same position in a tight Eastern Conference race. The Rangers have been getting chances, but not pulling through for the finish. If the team can keep sustaining offensive pressure and jump-start the anemic power play, good bounces—and wins-- will finally come their way.