Girardi out, Clendening in for tonight


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AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

At The Garden, the Rangers get set to host the Predators tonight at 7 PM. The goalie match-up will be Henrik Lundqvist against Nashville rookie Juuse Saros. It will be Lundqvist’s 16th straight start. He comes off his best game in which he made 43 saves in a 4-1 home win over the Ducks. In 10 career games against the Preds, he’s 6-4-0 with a 1.81 goals-against-average, .939 save percentage and two shutouts.

Saros returns to the Nashville net for his 11th game of the season. He’s 5-3-2 with a 1.79 GAA, .941 save percentage and one shutout. In the first meeting between the teams, he made 26 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss on Dec. 17. He’s a former Predators fourth round pick taken 99th overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. Only 21, he’s the heir apparent to franchise netminder Pekka Rinne.

There is one change for the Rangers. Dan Girardi will not play due to a lower body injury. He blocked a shot and showed off a swollen ankle. So, he’s listed as day-to-day. It’s ironic because the oft criticized veteran defenseman played one of his finest games of the season earning the Broadway Hat. Adam Clendening will fill in. He’ll actually play second pair with Marc Staal.

Alain Vigneault is bumping up Nick Holden to play with Ryan McDonagh. A good move in which his best puck possession and top minutes loggers will team up on the top pair. Kevin Klein will stay on the third pair with rookie Brady Skjei. They have been playing together lately and it’s worked out alright. I guess Vigneault doesn’t want to mess with the chemistry. It’ll be interesting to see how Clendening does with Staal. He’s certainly a good enough skater. I’m sure he’ll get some power play time.

It looks like there won’t be any other changes up front. So, that means you’ll probably see these four projected lines again:

Vesey-Stepan-Nash

Kreider-Zibanejad-Zuccarello

Grabner-Hayes-Miller

Buchnevich-Lindberg-Fast

Considering how they played against Anaheim, they’ll want to possess the puck more and pressure the Nashville D which is still pretty good. Roman Josi is back healthy. He anchors a strong blue line that features P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber.

Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and James Neal headline the forwards as a top line. Figure McDonagh and Holden to see plenty of the trio. Vigneault doesn’t normally match lines. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to stick the Hayes unit against them. That cohesive trio with Grabner and Miller are defensively responsible and very skilled turning defense into offense quickly. If not, I would expect Stepan’s unit to see them.

Keep an eye on Mike Fisher, who always seems to find the back of the net against them. He redirected the Preds’ only goal in the first match-up. He’ll always be one of those do everything centers who is overlooked. Viktor Arvidsson loves to shoot the puck. He must be accounted for along with Craig Smith, who can park himself in the slot for his dangerous wrist shot.

Vernon Fiddler recently returned to Nashville following a stint with the Devils before they acquired a fourth round pick for the checking center. He only has one goal on the year but is over 52.0 percent in the face-off dot and a solid penalty killer. He’ll anchor the fourth line with banger Cody McLeod and Austin Watson.

Here are the Nashville projected lines:

Forsberg-Johansen-Neal

Aberg-Fisher-Smith

Wilson-Jarnkrok-Arvidsson

McLeod-Fiddler-Watson

Josi-Ellis

Ekholm-Subban

Irwin-Weber

Saros

It’s worth noting that Subban didn’t play in the first meeting. Obviously, it goes without saying that the Rangers must pay attention to the dangerous former Canadien with the absolute rocket of a shot. I would suggest avoiding the penalty box.

Grabner leads the Blueshirts with 25 goals and the entire NHL with 23 even strength. Astonishing. Miller has been on a roll with 20 points over the last 17 and leads the team in scoring with 42 points. He’s playing basically third line and gets over 16 minutes as does Hayes. Imagine if he was on a higher line.

The Rangers have balance. Nash has looked very good lately. He scored against Calgary but didn’t against Anaheim. He, Stepan and Vesey have chemistry. You have to figure they’re gonna break out soon. Why not tonight?

The chemistry between Kreider and Zuccarello is impeccable. They are terrific together. It doesn’t matter who they play with. They’re setting each other up frequently. Zibanejad is a good fit because he thinks shot more. He hasn’t finished much recently. Maybe that changes.

They are facing a good young goalie who has tremendous upside. Let’s see what they do against Saros in the second meeting.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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