Game Preview: Rangers host Sharks, Vigneault to stick with 11 F and 7 D

Tonight, the Rangers look to make it two wins in a row. After stymieing the Predators 4-2 despite less than 20 shots on Saturday, they host the Sharks at MSG. It’s the fifth straight home game of a season long six-game homestand. Win tonight and they can set themselves up for three in a row with the winless Coyotes coming in Thursday.

With coach Alain Vigneault having settled on a three line rotation for now, he’ll stick with the odd 11 forward, 7 defensemen alignment. That means he has no confidence in extra forwards Adam Cracknell and Paul Carey. He did hint about a possible center call up later this week. But anyone getting their hopes up for Filip Chytil shouldn’t. He’s better off developing in Hartford. We know he won’t get enough time here.

More realistic options are Cristoval “Boo” Nieves and Vinny Lettieri. Many would like to see Lettieri, who was impressive in training camp. I see the organization preaching patience with the first year pro. Nieves can probably be given a chance to sink or swim as a 4C and PK option. What is the point of keeping Carey and claiming Cracknell if they’re not gonna be used?

For the time being, Pavel Buchnevich and Michael Grabner will be worked I never with one of Mika Zibanejad, David Desharnais and Kevin Hayes. J.T. Miller can also shift to center if need be.

At the moment, the cohesion between Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast is undeniable. They combined for three goals and two assists on Saturday. Zibanejad has cooled considerably since the hot start that saw him score five times in the first four games. He’s a minus-eight. Mats Zuccarello is a team worst minus-10. Surely, Zuccarello has to pick it up. He’s looked to as one of the veteran leaders wearing an ‘A’ on his jersey.

Chris Kreider needs to follow up his first goal with a strong game. He plays top power play and remains with Desharnais and Miller. Rick Nash remains stuck on one goal. He leads the team with 35 shots. They have to start going in eventually. He’s ran into a lot of bad luck hitting goalposts. If only there was a stat for that.

The D will include power play specialist Tony DeAngelo, who lost most of his regular shifts to Nick Holden. Vigneault likes what Tony D brings. Hopefully, he gets more than five and a half minutes of ice time. The D pairs remain the same with Ryan McDonagh working with Brendan Smith while Kevin Shattenkirk plays alongside Marc Staal. The third pair is Brady Skjei and Nick Holden.

Henrik Lundqvist gets his ninth start in the first 10 games. He’ll look to build on a good performance in Saturday’s win over the Predators.

For the Sharks, the players to watch are Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Martin Jones. Burns is without a goal so far despite firing a team best 31. He scored 29 times last season to win the Norris. Obviously, the Blueshirts want to avoid any undisciplined penalties.

Pavelski does most of his work in front. He’s a terrific center who is adept at deflecting home pucks. He must be boxed out. Couture recently had a hat trick. He leads the Sharks with six goals and eight points. A tremendously skater, he can be dangerous on the rush and is a good overall player who plays every situation.

Thornton remains one of the game’s best passers. He is great at creating space and loves to work from behind the net. So, his time and space must be limited.

Jones is the number one goalie. He got Saturday off with backup Aaron Dell losing a 5-3 decision to the Islanders. Jones’ last start was a shutout over the Devils. He can be really good but sometimes can be off. Moving him side to side is the key.

Hometown kid Kevin Labanc makes his Garden debut. The Staten Island native has three goals and two assists so far. A great story, he played for the Jersey Rockets and represented Team USA in Grand Rapids before putting up big numbers for the Barrie Colts in the OHL. He’s 3-3-6 ranking second in team scoring. Keep an eye on him.

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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