Rangers vs. Blackhawks – 7:00 PM MSG
The Rangers play the second half of a delayed home and home (both teams had a game in between) with the Blackhawks. Normally I save the big news for after the lineup but there’s no ignoring the $8.5 million elephant in the room: Antti Raanta starts his fourth consecutive game, the first time that Lundqvist has sat four straight as a healthy scratch in his entire career. What’s being underreported is the vastly improved defensive play of the Rangers as a team, greatly reducing the number of shots against. That’s not to say Raanta has been anything other than spectacular, just a separate good sign for the way the team is trending.
I’ll be watching this one on a delay, possibly even tomorrow morning. Clearly, this is a HAV.
Tonight’s possible lineup for the Rangers (20-9-1):
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
JT Miller-Kevin Hayes-Michael Grabner
Jimmy Vesey-Brandon Pirri-Nicklas Jensen
Marek Hrivik-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Nick Holden
Brady Skjei-Kevin Klein
The big news, of course, is the aforementioned fourth consecutive start for Antti Raanta. He has gone about 151 minutes without allowing a goal against. In addition to the improved defensive play, special teams have been very good lately, which could be an advantage against a poor Blackhawks penalty kill.
Rick Nash is getting closer to returning. There are still no definitive timetables on Buchnevich or Puempel. Frankly, I like what Hrivik and Jensen have brought to the table more than Puempel.
The defense remains the same as it has for most of the season. I’d like to see Skjei paired with Holden at some point. Holden has been playing very well over the past ten games or so.
For the Blackhawks (18-8-4), the story is still about injuries, but some help is on the way. The Hawks had been without captain and star center Jonathan Toews (much to the chagrin of Sioux), as well as starting goaltender Corey Crawford and defenseman Brent Seabrook. However, Toews and Seabrook will return to the Hawks lineup tonight. We also get another chance to see Marian Hossa, who is just one of my absolute favorite players.
Don’t forget to tell everyone you know and to follow me on Twitter @rangersreport2. And don’t forget to vote for your three stars after the game!