Rangers @ Blackhawks
United Center, 8:30 pm.
Rangers Record: 14 - 14 - 1
Chicago Record: 18 - 7 - 3
As if leading their division wasn't enough, the Chicago Blackhawks became even deadlier recently, having welcomed sniper Marian Hossa into the lineup.
After signing a lucrative 12-year contract in the offseason, Hossa had shoulder surgery which sidelined him for nearly four months.
Hossa complements an already impressive offensive charge led by winger Patrick Kane, 9 - 18 - 27, and defenseman Duncan Keith, 5 - 18 - 23. Both, along with Jonathan Toews, recently signed contract extensions showing their commitment to the Blackhawks organization.
The Blackhawks haven't played since Saturday, when they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2 - 1 in OT at Mellon Arena.
Hossa opened the scoring with his third goal in six games and young winger Kris Versteeg won the game off an assist from defenseman Brian Campbell.
Chicago is 7 - 2 - 1 in their last ten.
So the Rangers will have a lot on their plate tonight, as they try to combat the red-hot 'Hawks and get on a winni
ng streak of their own.
Coming off a disappointing, but better effort, loss 3 - 1 against the Detroit Red Wings, New York will have to continue and play smart defensively as a group to subdue the potent 'Hawks.
Some questions remain for the lineup tonight, as Wade Redden and Donald Brashear appear ready to go, coming off injuries that have sidelined them for the past couple weeks.
Hartford call-up Ilkka Heikkinen has looked the most NHL-ready of all the Rangers call-ups this season, but could be sat in favor of Redden's return. However, don't discount the possibility of Michal Rozsival or Matt Gilroy getting a night off.
With Brashear available, the Rangers may choose to sit Aaron Voros. There is also the possibility that recently-acquired Erik Christensen, who hasn't brought a lot to the table yet, sits.
Brian Boyle, who scored the lone-goal for the Rangers against Detroit, seems to have solidified himself in the lineup for the time being. In the past several games, Boyle has looked more comfortable with two-way play and has skated with more purpose than merely fighting or bruising.
According to Blueshirt Bulletin contributor and beat writer for The Record Andrew Gross, the Rangers experimented recently with Sean Avery on the top line with Vinny Prospal at center and Marian Gaborik on the right.
Avery's play has been more assertive in recent games and warrants the chance for top minutes.
The potential secondary line could also show some promise as Chris Higgins takes to the left with Chris Drury in the middle and Ryan Callahan on the right. All three have had tremendous efforts in the past three games and have exhibited some cohesion when playing together.
And the bottom two lines continue to be a quandry. Aside from Ales Kotalik, Artem Anisimov, and Boyle, who seem to have locked up a spot in the lineup, the remaining forwards continue to rotate.
Voros, Brashear, and Christensen haven't brought a tremendous amount to the table and Enver Lisin and P.A. Parenteau don't fit the profile of third or fourth line players.
Something has to give.
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