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Rangers return from break to take on the Predators; Klein and Girardi expected to play

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs predators 11-23

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

After a long holiday break, given a chance to recuperate and take a mental break, the Rangers (20-12-4) head down to Music City to take on the Nashville Predators (17-12-6), the first game in a three game road trip.

This is the second and final matchup between these two teams this season, with the Rangers coming away with a 3-0 win back on November 23rd at MSG. The Rangers played badly, outshot 31-19, but goals from Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Kevin Hayes secured a win for the home team.

December has been the month that Alain Vigneault and the Rangers seem to figure things out. Two years ago they were playing .500 hockey until a little before Christmas time. Last season, the Rangers started an eight game win streak with an overtime win over the Penguins on December 8th. But this season? They have just a 3-6-2 record this month as of today.

The Rangers entered the holiday break with an overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks. Although they came away with a win, they didn’t play all that well. There wasn’t a lot of scoring chances, and they surrendered a late goal and allowed the game to go to overtime.

The Predators have not been nearly as good as they were last season, when they finished second in the Central Division. They currently sit in fifth with 40 points, but because of the weak Pacific Division, they hold the last wild card spot.

Nashville probably has the best defensive group in the entire league. Roman Josi and Shea Weber lead the team in points with 26 and 25 points, respectively. Weber is second on the team in goals with 10, and has 15 points in this month alone. Josi is tied for third in goals on the team with nine. Between the two of them, they’ve scored 13 power play goals, helping the Predators rise to 10th in the league on the man advantage.

shea weber

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

After those two, the team still has some fantastic depth with defenseman like Seth Jones (1-9-10), Ryan Ellis (3-11-14), Mattias Ekholm (3-7-10), and Barret Jackman as the steady, defensive force. Their defenseman have combined for 87 points this season.

The Predators don’t have a ton of scoring depth at the forward position, but still have some good players there as well. Filip Forsberg is following up his fantastic rookie season with a strong start to his sophomore campaign. Tallying 24 points (9-15-24) through 35 games. James Neal leads the team with his 13 goals, and also has nine assists. Mike Ribeiro is tied for the team lead with 17 assists.

Usually a strength of the Predators is their goaltending, but not this year. Pekka Rinne, a Vezina nominee last season, has not been his usual self. He’s been a little better as of late, but only has a .910 save percentage. His 2.36 GAA is also up from last season. He’s expected to be in net tonight.

Opposing him will be Henrik Lundqvist, looking to right the ship and get back to playing how he was at the beginning of the season. Lundqvist has posted a save percentage of .900 or worse in each of his last six appearances, and the Rangers will need him to be at his best in order to get out of their funk that has seen New York win just four of their last 15 games. Lundqvist recorded a shutout and 31 saves against the Preds earlier this season.

Vigneault will receive some help on defense with the return of Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi to the lineup, barring any major setback. Klein has been sidelined through December with an oblique injury, and Dan Girardi missed five games with a small crack in his right kneecap.

dan girardi full body 10-25

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Either player is an upgrade over Chris Summers, but Dylan McIlrath will sit in the press box now despite playing extremely well while the team needed help on the blue line. Klein was playing very well before the injury, but Girardi needs to step up and play well, because McIlrath deserves to play.

Mats Zuccarello scored the overtime winner against the Ducks, continuing the stellar start to his season. The goal was his 15th of the season and his 30th point, putting him just four goals away from his career high of 19 set back in the 2013-14 season. It’s incredible to see his return from the brain injury, and to see him playing this well.

Derick Brassard has also been outstanding as of late, tallying 13 points (7-6-13) in the last 12 games, giving him a total of 28 points (13-15-28) this season. He’s on pace for 64 points and over 20 goals, continuing to get better with each season he plays in New York.

Dan Boyle has been one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success on the power play. The Rangers surprisingly are fourth in the league on the man advantage, and Boyle has been on the ice for 16 of the team’s 22 power play goals. He has seven points (4-3-7) in the last eight games.

The Rangers and the Predators will face off at Bridgestone Arena tonight at 8 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

EXPECTED LINEUP

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Jesper Fast

Kevin Hayes-Oscar Lindberg-JT Miller

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Viktor Stalberg

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on December 28, 2015, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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