Upcoming games: Coyotes, January 10, 7:00 p.m.; Senators, January 12, 7:00 p.m.; @ Maple Leafs, January 14, 7:00 p.m.; @ Canadiens, January 15, 7:00 p.m.
Phoenix Coyotes (45 points, 11th Place Western Conference, 20-17-5)
Brad Richards beat the buzzer to score the game winning goal with 0.1 second left when the Rangers defeated the Yotes 3-2 back on December 17 in Phoenix. Marian Gaborik netted two goals in the victory that got the Rangers on a hot five game win streak. The Coyotes will enter the Garden coming off a big 5-1 victory against the Islanders on Saturday. Captain Shane Doan notched the first hat trick of his career, netting the third goal with just a second left in the game. Mike Smith made 32 saves in the win. It was Smith’s third game back in net after missing six games with a groin injury. He’s 16-11-4 this season with a 2.43 goals against average. Left winger Raffi Torres returned to the lineup after serving a two game suspension. The oft injured Adrian Aucoin is questionable with an injured right eye after he took a puck to the face Thursday night in a 1-0 overtime loss to Los Angeles. The 39-year-old left winger Ray Whitney leads the Coyotes with 36 points. Radim Vrbata, who leads the team with 19 goals, has four points in his last five games. They are 4-4-2 in their last ten games.
Ottawa Senators (48 points, 6th place, 21-15-6)
The Rangers are 1-1 against the Sens this season. The Senators won 5-4 in a shootout at MSG in October while the Blueshirts won 3-2 in Ottawa back in November. The All Star game hosts are rollingm7-1-2 in their last ten games. They ended a four game win streak that had them outscoring their opponent 14-8 with an overtime loss in Philadelphia on Saturday. Ottawa’s offense boasts five double digit goal scorers: Milan Michalek (20), Jason Spezza (15), Daniel Alfredsson (13), Zack Smith (12) and Nick Foligno (11). Defenseman Erik Karlsson has 34 assists, second most in the league, and amassed the most votes in All Star fan balloting. Center Kyle Turris has been clicking since being traded from the Coyotes. He has six points in nine games, including a game winning goal. While goaltender Craig Anderson has a shaky overall record, he’s been hot of late thanks to support from his teammates. He’s 4-0-1 in his last five games. Veteran blueliner Chris Phillips was cleared to return to the lineup after suffering a mild concussion last week.
Toronto Maple Leafs (47 points, 7th place, 21-15-5)
The Rangers are 0-2 against the Maple Leafs this season, both losses coming in New York. The Rangers lost 4-2 in the home opener back in October and 4-2 in December. Winger Phil Kessel continues to impress. He’s second in the league in points (48) and goals (24) and has at least a point in each of his last eight games. Joffrey Lupul is not far behind with 19 goals and 47 points having a breakout season. He scored the game winning goal in the third period against the Red Wings on Saturday to give the Leafs their third straight win. Toronto almost let a three goal first period outburst slip away in the eventual 4-3 victory. The speedy Leafs have the third best power play in the league but the worst penalty kill unit operating at 73.4% success rate. General manager Brian Burke caused a stir earlier this week when he spoke out about the decline of enforcers and their ability to “police the game.” He recently sent Colton Orr, the gritty fighter, to the Marlies, their AHL affiliate.
Montreal Canadiens (39 points, 12th place, 16-18-7)
Though the Canadiens are 3-7 in their last ten games, they might gain steam after winning two straight. They creamed the Winnipeg Jets 7-3 last Wednesday led by a five points, four goal outburst from Lars Eller. Captain Brian Gionta returned to the lineup this weekend for the first time since suffering a lower body injury on December 8. Erik Cole scored his team-leading 17th goal of the season on the power play with 17 seconds remaining in the game to solidify Montreal’s 3-1 victory against Tampa Bay on Saturday while Carey Price made 23 saves. The goaltender is struggling with 15 wins and 14 losses this season. He’s 3-2 in his last five games. The Rangers are 1-1 against Montreal this season. The Canadiens shutout the Blueshirts 4-0 on November 19 led by Gionta’s two goal night and two power play strikes from Cole and Tomas Plekanec. The Rangers won 5-3 on November 5 at the Garden. Montreal currently has the worst power play in the league with a 12.6% success rate.
The Rangers shouldn’t take their foot off the pedal as they gear up to face lower ranked teams looking to move up. If they can avoid falling into the trap of underestimating their opponent and maintaining the same level of focus, they can put a stronghold on first place.