Game Preview: Rangers Continue Home Stand Against Winnipeg

Tonight, the Rangers finally return to the ice to take on Winnipeg at Madison Square Garden. After four days off, they aim for their fifth win in six. Following a poor showing last Saturday at Montreal (1-3), they posted a great come from behind 5-4 win over Minnesota.

For two periods, major penalties to Chris Kreider and John Moore marred them. Despite killing off every Wild power play, the loss of discipline resulted in three Minnesota goals during a second period that saw the Rangers outshot 11-3. Booed off the ice, they responded with a five-goal third highlighted by rookie Anthony Duclair’s first NHL goal tying the score with 3:48 left. On the following shift, Derick Brassard set up Mats Zuccarello’s first 37 seconds later, resulting in the game-winner.

Brassard was the best player tallying a goal and two assists. He and Zuccarello combined for six points. Rick Nash continued his assault scoring his ninth goal in nine games. He also helped set up Kevin Klein’s second which started the comeback. Nash leads the Blueshirts in goals (9), points (11) and plus/minus (6). His offense has allowed the Rangers to stay afloat despite missing Derek Stepan and Dan Boyle. In his absence, Matt Hunwick has provided coach Alain Vigneault with a solid extra defenseman. The veteran has even chipped in offensively picking up two assists. With Boyle only skating, Hunwick will remain in the lineup.

The most pressing issue could be the Moore suspension. Moore was suspended five games for a head shot that injured Eric Haula. A repeat offender due to a ban last postseason, Moore’s loss means a second chance for Michael Kostka. In his only game, he was brutal with a pair of blatant giveaways leading to Islander goals in a humiliating home defeat. Given Marc Staal’s struggles resulting in Vigneault re-teaming Dan Girardi and putting Ryan McDonagh with Klein, Kostka must perform adequately. Otherwise, it could force the organization to bring in reinforcements.

With stiffer competition in St. Louis and Detroit invading MSG later this week, it’s imperative for the Rangers to take care of business against Winnipeg. While the Jets boast talented performers Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Toby Enstrom and Jacob Trouba, they remain suspect defensively and in net. They enter off a 2-1 shootout defeat at the Devils. A game they blew on a late Michael Ryder tally with over three minutes remaining. Jacob Josefson beat Ondrej Pavelec in the second round of the skill competition.

For the Rangers to win, they must prevent the Jets from turning it into a track meet. Even with Vigneault emphasizing offense, a wide open game against Winnipeg isn’t advisable. Especially when he’ll likely lean heavily on McDonagh, Girardi and Staal. They must control the neutral zone and forecheck. Avoid penalties as it will then allow the Jets dangerous points Enstrom and Byfuglien to fire away. Limit turnovers. Make it tough on Winnipeg. Do that and they’ll be successful.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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