When the Rangers visit the Senators tonight in Kanata, Ontario, they’ll be without two of their starting forwards in the top nine. Both Vladislav Namestnikov and Mats Zuccarello didn’t make the road trip that also includes a stop in Montreal this Saturday.
Zuccarello will miss another game due to a groin strain that’s nagging him. So much for it not being serious. He’s played in two games since 11/6. He took part in games versus the Islanders and Flyers eight days apart. Both losses. The most recent was on Black Friday in a 4-0 shutout defeat in Philly. Ironically the only win they’ve posted lately. They fired GM Ron Hextall following an ugly loss to the Maple Leafs. Then, followed it up by blowing a two-goal lead in a bad 4-3 home loss to Ottawa on Tuesday.
While the Flyers are in turmoil by also letting go of assistant GM Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy, the Rangers will be shorthanded up front in the home-and-home rematch against the Senators. Unless they make a recall from Hartford, it looks like coach David Quinn will dress a lineup with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
Namestnikov was in concussion protocol due to a hit he took during the team’s 4-2 win at home on Monday. He is 2-7-9 in 24 games with a minus-six rating. While the numbers aren’t all that impressive, he’s brought more intangibles to the table since an early healthy scratch. He’s been more active on the forecheck and used his body physically. He has recorded 33 hits and 16 blocked shots. Quinn has used him on the penalty kill. Hopefully, the injury isn’t serious.
Assuming Quinn goes with seven D, then everyone that’s active on the roster will play. That includes Fredrik Claesson, who got Monday night off following a rare poor game in a loss to the Capitals.
It’ll be interesting to see how Quinn uses his D. He will have the luxury of rotating guys in and out for shifts. Kevin Shattenkirk has played mostly with Claesson. He has also seen time with Brendan Smith. Marc Staal has formed a good pair with Neal Pionk. They match up often against top lines. Pionk usually carries the load due to playing power play and penalty kill.
Brady Skjei has improved since he missed two games. His skating has picked up along with his checking, which is what Quinn wants to see. He has played with both Tony DeAngelo and Smith. My guess is it’ll be a mixed bag depending on game situation.
I would expect Henrik Lundqvist to start. He was superb on Monday with Ottawa coach Guy Boucher crediting him for making some good saves. Considering that they had two days off, Lundqvist should be ready to go. I wonder if Quinn plans to use him for the Canadiens on Saturday. The House of Horrors hasn’t treated him well. We’ll see.
Even though they are still near the bottom of the conference with 23 points, the Sens continue to pile up goals due to Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, Thomas Chabot and impressive rookie Brady Tkachuk. As they proved on Tuesday night, they’re never out of a game. Tkachuk scored twice and Duchene notched a highlight reel game decider by batting in his own rebound with a unbelievable backhand out of mid-air.
The Senators are a fun team to watch. They have some good young talent for the future. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Stone and Duchene. Both can become unrestricted free agents next summer. I have to believe they’ll go all in on keeping Stone, who likes playing for them. Duchene will probably leave.
Ottawa is shaky defensively and hasn’t gotten consistent netminding from veteran Craig Anderson. But they are 7-4-2 on home ice. The Blueshirts are only 3-6-2 on the road.
Faceoff is shortly after 7:30 PM.