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Staal in the family: Eric makes Rangers debut at MSG against the Blue Jackets

Bobby Bevilacqua

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Rangers

Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennet/Getty Images.

For the first time in their NHL careers, Marc and Eric Staal will both don the same jersey and play for the same team as the Rangers (36-20-6) look to extend their winning streak to three games when they return home to take on John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets (26-29-8).

With the trade deadline looming at 3 PM, there’s no certainty about what the lineups will look like for tonight’s game, but the Rangers will definitely have a new face on the bench. Eric Staal was at morning skate and will make his New York Rangers debut tonight at Madison Square Garden.

Alain Vigneault got a lot of help from Henrik Lundqvist on Saturday, with Hank making 36 saves in a tightly contested victory over the Dallas Stars. Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Klein all scored goals to help pick up the team’s second straight win, and giving them nine wins in the last 12 games.

This is the third matchup of the season between these two teams, and the first time they’ll be playing since October 10th when the team’s had a back-to-back set. This is also the first time that the Rangers will face Columbus with John Tortorella behind the bench. The Rangers won both of those games, scoring nine goals and giving up just four. Oscar Lindberg has three goals in the two games, and Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, JT Miller, Viktor Stalberg and Keith Yandle each have two points in the two games.

This is the Rangers only stop at the Garden in a two week span, but they’ll look to continue their success on home ice. They’ve picked up a point in 13 of the last 15 games at Madison Square Garden (11-2-2), and they’re 22-6-3 on home ice this season.

This will also be the Rangers first game at MSG on February 29th since 1988, when Brian Leetch made his NHL debut and picked up his first NHL point. Plus you have Marc and Eric playing their first game together, the first brother-duo on the Rangers since Chris and Peter Ferraro in 1997. So expect some weird things tonight.

The Blue Jackets have started playing better lately, winning their last two games and picking up points in 10 of the last 11 games (7-1-3). They’re still near the bottom of the league and in the running for a lottery pick, but they’re starting to create distance between themselves and the teams like Edmonton and Toronto. Which honestly, may not be all that good if they want to draft really high.

Scott Hartnell is the leading scorer on the team, but there’s a chance that he may not be in the lineup. Hartnell has supposedly clashed with Tortorella at times, and he would be a valuable asset to a playoff team looking for some offensive firepower in the top six. Hartnell had a goal and an assist in the Blue Jackets’ last game.

Brandon Saad has lived up to expectations in Columbus, setting a new career high in goals (24) and sitting in second on the team in scoring with 40 points. A two time Stanley Cup winner, Saad brings experience and a winning pedigree to a lineup that doesn’t have a lot of that. He leads the team with six game winning goals, has scored five on the power play, and one in the two games against the Rangers. Saad has also scored three goals in the past four games, and five in the past eight.

With Sergei Bobrovsky struggling with yet another injury, Joonas Korpisalo has taken over in net for the Jackets. The 21 year old Finnish netminder has won three straight, allowing eight goals in that span. So far, Korpisalo is 12-7-4 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA.

Antti Raanta will be back in net for the Rangers tonight, making his first start since February 18th, a masterful 35 save performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is another game where Raanta is set up to succeed, playing against one of the league’s weaker teams with the Rangers playing at their best. However, he will still need to be strong in search of his sixth win.

Eric Staal has played in 909 NHL games, all with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he’ll be playing his first game in blue tonight, skating in a bigger market with more pressure in New York. But with his experience as a captain and a winner at all levels, it’s reasonable to expect him to transition well. Vigneault said that he envisions Staal playing center for the team in a top-six role, which means that Kevin Hayes could likely shift back to the wing. That all remains to be seen.

This season, Staal has tallied 33 points (10-23-33) for the Hurricanes. And while those numbers may not look great, it’s deceiving because of the lack of talent that Staal played with. He still has a fantastic 57% Corsi for rating, and the fact that his shooting percentage in 4.3% below his career average means that he’s due for some bounces and puck luck. He’s a skilled forward, an excellent defensive forward, and his presence will certainly help the Rangers lineup.

Kevin Hayes might be moving back to the wing, but he’s still be playing really well lately, tallying at least a point in six of the last nine games, recording eight points (4-4-8) in that span. He’s on pace for 15 goals and 41 points, which would be very close to matching his production from his rookie season. The Rangers are going to need Hayes to be at his best down the stretch, especially moving forward against some tough competition and against division foes.

As for lineup updates, Jesper Fast didn’t take place in the morning skate because of flu-like symptoms. If he can’t play, the Rangers could recall Marek Hrivik (sent down for cap space in case of a trade), they could play Dylan McIlrath at wing, or a trade might be made. Vigneault said the team isn’t planning to stand pat at the 3 PM deadline and still need some help on the PK.

The Rangers and the Blue Jackets will face off at Madison Square Garden at 7 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

POTENTIAL LINES (Not Confirmed)

Eric Staal-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Jesper Fast

JT Miller-Kevin Hayes-Viktor Stalberg

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Oscar Lindberg

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein

Antti Raanta

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Posted on February 29, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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