Rangers face tough test at East leading Lightning

Tonight, the Rangers have a very tough challenge ahead when they visit the East leading Lightning. If they play like Saturday night, it’ll be a disaster. You can’t play one good period like they got away with in the wild and wacky 5-4 shootout win over lousy Florida.

Do that against the more structured and talented Bolts and it won’t bode well. Not when they’re facing a very high scoring team that boasts two of the top players in the league in high flying Nikita Kucherov and top finisher Brayden Point. Point centers Kucherov and Tyler Johnson on the new Triplets line. They’re even harder to stop. With Point among the league leaders with 21 goals and 39 points, and Kucherov on a tear that has the lethal Russian up to 44 points (12-32-44). Johnson is the forgotten guy, who sneaks up on you with a dozen markers and 10 assists.

Steven Stamkos has quietly improved since a slow start. The Lightning captain enters with 30 points (12-18-30), playing mainly with Yanni Gourde. It can either be J.T. Miller or Ondrej Palat on the left side. The problem is whoever is on the third line gives them an advantage. They also have a good rookie in Mathieu Joseph, who has nine goals. A good forechecker, he finished checks and capable of contributing.

Alex Killorn, Cedric Paquette, Ryan Callahan and Anthony Cirelli are all solid secondary pieces who play in checking roles, including the penalty kill.

Tampa is led by Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh on the blueline. Imagine having two great left skating D on your first two pairs. The Rangers had McDonagh until that deadline deal with Miller that netted rookie Brett Howden, prospect Libor Hajek and a first round pick. They are committed to the rebuild. Too bad they couldn’t pry Cal Foote or Taylor Raddysh. Both are doing well in the Bolts’ AHL affiliate in Syracuse.

McDonagh is having a Norris kind of season. While he won’t put up the gaudy numbers of Morgan Rielly or Thomas Chabot, the former captain is playing sound two-way hockey like he did in New York City. He leads Tampa defensemen with 18 assists and 20 points along with a team best plus-18 rating. Mac is happy to be on another Stanley Cup contender.

It’s gotta be odd being reunited with former teammates Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, Callahan with Miller joining him on Rangers South. I’m sure it’s a lot of fun for those guys. Hopefully, it results in a Cup. They deserve it.

The funny thing about the Lightning is they’re doing all this winning without one of their best players. Starter Andrei Vasilevskiy remains out due to injury. It’s been all Louis Domingue in net. The former Coyote has 13 wins in 17 starts. His numbers aren’t great, but they don’t have to be as long as he gets good run support and makes key saves. So, he has a 2.95 GAA and .906 save percentage without a shutout.

In other words, the Rangers should be able to get to him. They’ll have to possess the puck and have some attack time in order to do so. The way the Lightning play with all their skill, it’ll be some test for a team still without a road win in regulation or even three-on-three overtime. They are pretty successful in shootouts winning four times away from MSG.

So, do they have a chance? Well, the odds are better than Jim Carrey’s memorable Lloyd character with Mary in Dumb and Dumber.

The game starts soon. We’ll get back to you later.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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