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Lundqvist challenges Rangers to be better against Nashville at MSG

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs predators 3-2

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Despite the Rangers (15-3-2) overtime victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday, and a 39 save performance, Henrik Lundqvist was not a happy camper.

In a game that the Rangers led 4-2 with under three minutes remaining, Alain Vigneault’s team squandered the two goal lead, allowing a power play goal, a tying goal from Jaromir Jagr, and then forcing Lundqvist to make a save on Reilly Smith’s penalty shot. It was a disastrous late meltdown that nearly saw the team throw away a second consecutive game.

“I’m still annoyed,” Lundqvist told the team’s official website. “We have to learn our lesson here, especially after last game. We’ve been talking about all the ways we find to win a game, then we found a way to lose a game (Thursday) and almost did it again (Saturday). We need to learn from this and smarten up.”

The Rangers were outshot 43-31 by the Panthers just two days after Tampa Bay won with a 28-21 shot advantage. New York was shorthanded six, yes six times on Saturday, and surrendered two goals in those situations.

When Henrik Lundqvist speaks up, this team better listen. The only reason why the Rangers are where they are in the standings is because of the elite-level play of Henrik and his counterpart, Antti Raanta. The Swedish netminder leads the NHL in goals against average (1.85), save percentage (.943) and wins (11).

henrik lundqvist save on penalty shot 11-21

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Tonight the Blueshirts face a tougher opponent, and one of the stronger teams in the Western Conference, taking on the Nashville Predators (11-5-3) for the start of a brief two game home stand. It is the first of two games between New York and Nashville this year. The teams split the season series last year, with each team winning on home ice.

Nashville is expected to start Pekka Rinne in net tonight, last year’s Vezina Trophy finalist. Rinne’s numbers have dipped to start the season, currently possessing a 2.27 GAA and a .913 save percentage, despite having a 10-4-3 record. In his last two games, Rinne has allowed seven goals on 44 shots.

James Neal is set to play in his 500th career NHL game tonight, with tonight being his 86th game as a member of the Predators. Neal has been great for Nashville this season, leading the team with nine goals and 15 points. Filip Forsberg, a Calder trophy snub last season, has also gotten off to a strong start, tallying 11 points (2-9-11) through the team’s first 19 games.

The Predators also possess the best scoring defense in the entire league, and it can even be argued that their defensive corps is the best. Roman Josi has taken over as the best blueliner in Nashville, and he leads the defense with 13 points (4-9-13). Shea Weber (4-6-10) and Seth Jones (1-9-10) both have double digits in points, while Ryan Ellis (2-7-9) and Matthias Ekholm (3-5-8) are not far behind.

For the Rangers, cleaning up their sloppy play starts with their defenseman. There have been some egregious turnovers and terrible decisions throughout the season, but it’s been evident lately. Ryan McDonagh has gotten better as of late, but Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle are all guilty of turnovers and poor play in their own end, as well as the captain.

Ryan McDonagh profile 10-22

The defense needs to step up. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Henrik Lundqvist has already faced a mind blowing 522 shots against, which speaks to how his defensemen and forwards are playing in front of him – not well. He’s an amazing goalie, but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be able to sustain a .943 save percentage, including a high save percentage on high danger chances, over the course on an 82 game season.

While the depth forwards continue to struggle, most notable Kevin Hayes and the third line, the dynamic trio of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello have been lighting up opponents. Nash scored a hat trick against the Panthers, scoring from medium range twice and making a power move to the net on his second goal, reminiscent of his play from last season. Those goals, as well as Zucarello’s team leading 10th goal of the season, means that the top line have scored eight of the team’s last 14 even strength goals. The other three units have combined for two of them.

So if Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Kevin Hayes and others continue to struggle scoring goals, the top line will be leaned on heavily. Nash looked like the same player from last season on Saturday, and could finally be ready to break out and be the scorer the Rangers need. It’s just one game, but it needs to carry over.

Playing with Mats Zuccarello helps quite a bit however, as the team’s smallest player has the biggest impact. Zuccs had a goal and two assists against Florida, giving him 21 points (10-11-21) this year. His vision is tremendous, he plays so well alongside Derick Brassard, and he’ll get even more points once Rick Nash gets going.

With the depth forwards struggling, it may be time to let Emerson Etem come back into the lineup. Viktor Stalberg has made some awful turnovers lately, and has been dragging the third line down. Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg have been really quiet, not doing all that much in the offensive zone.

On the second line, JT Miller continues to fail to take advantage of a top-six role, despite getting countless opportunities. Chris Kreider missed two consecutive penalty shots, perfectly summing up the type of season that he is having.

Emerson Etem has been good in the limited time he has seen. The Long Beach, Cal. Native has two assists in seven games this season, and has showed promise in the offensive zone. He’s not afraid to attack the net, and if Miller isn’t ready to grow in a top six role, let Etem, who has a lot of skill, get a shot at doing the same.

Keith Yandle has been held without a point in three straight games. I don’t see it going longer than that, so my guess is we’ll see a good game out of him.

The Rangers and the Predators will face off at Madison Square Garden at 7 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG+.

PROJECTED LINEUP (Not Official, speculation)

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Kevin Hayes

Emerson Etem-Oscar Lindberg-JT Miller

Jarret Stoll-Dominic Moore-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle-Dan Boyle

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on November 23, 2015, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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