Upcoming games: Predators, January 17, 7:30 p.m.; Penguins, January 19, 7:00 p.m.; @ Bruins, January 21, 1:00 p.m.
Nashville Predators (54 points, 6th place Western conference, 25-15-4)
This is the first and only meeting between these two teams this season. Last season the Rangers beat the Predators 2-1 in a shootout in Nashville. The Preds are on a tear with a four game win streak. Pekka Rinne made 36 saves and winger Nick Spaling netted the game winner on Saturday as they beat the Flyers 4-2. Rinne has 23 wins, the second best among the league’s goaltenders, along with a .920 save percentage. Nashville is dominating on the man advantage with second best power play percentage success rate in the league (21.3%). All star defenseman Shea Weber leads the team with 31 points and a + 12 rating. Winger Martin Erat has six points in his last five games. The Predators will face the Islanders in an afternoon matchup on Monday before hitting Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. The Rangers are 6-3-2 versus Western Conference teams this season.
Pittsburgh Penguins (48 points, 9th place, 22-17-4)
The Rangers are 2-0 against the Penguins this season. They won 4-3 back on November 29 and 3-1 earlier this month in Pittsburgh. Captain Sidney Crosby skated for the first time on Friday in more than a month as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms. They snapped a six game losing skid with a dominant 4-1 win in Florida against the Panthers on Friday. Leading point scorer Evgeni Malkin netted the eventual game winner late in the second period before Tyler Kennedy and James Neal sealed the victory. During the Pens six game losing skid, they scored two or fewer goals each game, only the second time in franchise history a consistent scoring drought of that nature occurred according to Elias Sports Bureau. The injury depleted team is scratching to work up the standings back in the playoff picture. They’re still without star defenseman Kris Letang (concussion) and center Jordan Staal (knee).
Boston Bruins (57 points, 2nd place, 28-12-1)
The titans of the Eastern Conference will face off for the first time this season. The Stanley Cup hangover has long worn off as the Bruins take down opponents left and right by any means necessary. From big blowout victories to tight, physical battles, the B’s keep rolling. The goaltending tandem of Vezina winner Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask is not easy to beat. Rask leads the league in save percentage and goals against average while Thomas is not far behind carrying most of the workload and boasting four shutouts. The team is in sync as four Bruins lead the NHL in plus/minus rating. Rookie Tyler Seguin, +34, is having a breakout year. He earned an All Star nod with his team leading 38 points and 17 goals. Seguin has gelled with faceoff ace Patrice Bergeron -- a surprising snub from the All Star roster – and gritty winger Brad Marchand. Offense isn’t an issue for the B’s either as they have seven forwards that boast double-digit goal totals and two top lines. Boston is 7-3 in their last 10 games and 15-5 in their last 20. They hit a bump in the road against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday who defeated them late 4-2.
The Rangers are in first place today in numbers but the Bruins are the top dogs and team to beat in theory. Defeating the former Stanley Cup champs can further solidify the Blueshirts' stronghold as a first place powerhouse destined to make a spring run.