Upcoming games: Stars, December 13, 7:00 p.m.; @ Blues December 15, 8:00 p.m.; @ Coyotes, December 17, 8:00 p.m.
Dallas Stars (33 points, 3rd place Western Conference, 16-11-1)
Brad Richards’ former squad will pay him a visit at Madison Square Garden for the first and only time this season. The Stars defeated the Kings 2-1 on Saturday without their star net minder. Kari Lethonen injured his groin two weeks ago against the Coyotes. Lehtonen at one point led the NHL with 13 victories and boasted a 2.34 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Rookie Richard Bachman made 26 saves in his first NHL start in goal. Andrew Raycroft has been shaky in Lethonen’s absence with an overall record of 2-7. Leading point scorer Jamie Benn snapped a five game scoring drought with a goal in their latest victory. Goals haven’t been easy to come by for the Stars. Winger Loui Eriksson hasn’t scored a goal since November 23 and has just three points in his last eight games. The Stars allow about 33 shots per game on average, the most in the NHL. They are 5-4-2 in their last ten games. Without Lethonen, their backbone in net who isn’t expected to return until after Christmas, the Rangers offense should take advantage.
St. Louis Blues (37 points, 5th place Western Conference, 17-9-3)
Ranked 7th out of 16 in the NHL.com’s latest Power Rankings, the Blues have a good rhythm going. After a slow start that saw head coach Davis Payne pay the price, new coach Ken Hitchcock has steadied the ship. They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Goaltender Brian Elliot, who started the season designated the backup to Jaroslav Halak, leads the NHL in goals against average (1.45), save percentage (.947) and shutouts (4). Elliot made 24 saves in Saturday’s 1-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. Sophomore defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored the winning goal early on the powerplay. Shattenkirk leads the Blues’ defensemen with 16 points and has posted a solid +7. Winger David Perron is returning to form after missing more than a year with a concussion. In four games, he has a goal and two assists. The Blues who have a three game winning streak to protect, should be refreshed when the Rangers come to town as they have a four day break between their last game.
Phoenix Coyotes (33 points, 7th place Western Conference, 15-11-3)
The Coyotes are clawing for a playoff spot amidst a tight point crowd at the lower echelon of the Western Conference. They lost their last two games back-to-back by a margin of 9-3. The Yotes are last in the NHL in power play goals for scoring just 10 on 92 opportunities. The 39-year-old winger Ray Whitney leads the team with 29 points along with right winger Radim Vrbata. Vrbata, who scored a team leading 14 goals, has four points in his last five games. Former Rangers’ defenseman Michal Rozsival was activated off of injured reserve last week after missing 26 games with an upper body injury. When Ilya Bryzgalov left town for Philly this past summer, the Yotes had to find a new number one in net. They put their faith in and signed Mike Smith. Smith has been steady posting a 13-8-3 record with two shutouts. He’s tied for fourth in the NHL in wins, though recently he has lost four of his last five games in net. The Coyotes have a busy week with back to back games against the Ducks and Oilers before the Rangers head to town.