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Rangers kick off brief road trip in Arizona; Lundqvist expected to serve as backup

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers vs coyotes 11-7.jpg

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

 

 

The Rangers (24-12-1) came out of the Christmas break with a huge come-from-behind win over the Ottawa Senators, and look to keep on rolling as they take on the Arizona Coyotes (11-19-5) in Glendale, AZ.

This marks a matchup between one of the league’s best teams, and one of the league’s worst. The Coyotes have fewest wins and the second fewest points, struggling with injuries and an extremely young roster. The Rangers have also had to deal with a pretty significant amount of injuries among the forwards, but their depth and talent has kept them afloat.

This two-game road trip for the Rangers has them facing the Coyotes and the Avalanche, the two worst teams in the league. After that they take on the Sabres and the Flyers, so this presents a big opportunity for them to pick up some points they’ll need down the line.

This is the second and final meeting between these two teams this season, and the only one at the Gila River Arena. The Rangers won the first matchup, 3-2, at MSG on Oct. 23, with Henrik Lundqvist making 27 saves and eight different Rangers recording a point. New York has won nine of the last 10 games against the Coyotes dating back to Dec. 16, 2010.

The Coyotes are wrapping up a five game homestand and also looking to snap a five game losing streak. They haven’t won since Dec. 15, a shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ve won just three of their last 15 games dating back to Nov. 29.

Mike Smith missed some time earlier in the season, but he’s come back and provided Arizona with a more reliable force in net. Smith is just 7-9-4 with a 2.71 GAA, but his .924 save percentage is indicative of the heavy workload he’s facing, and that he’s been performing well despite little help in front of him.

Radim Vrbata had a down year with Vancouver last season, prompting him to re-join the Coyotes on a cheap, one year contract. That’s worked out for both sides, as the Coyotes have a new leading scorer and Vrbata is four points away from matching last season’s total. His nine goals lead the team, and he has a goal and three points in his last three games.

Anthony Duclair was the centerpiece of a trade for Keith Yandle two seasons ago, and Duclair had a 20 goal, 44 point rookie season. But he’s had a very difficult time this season, scoring just two goals and six points in 32 games. He scored in their last game against Dallas, snapping a 22 game goal drought. That goal might get him back in the swing of things, and the Coyotes desperately need that from him.

Henrik Lundqvist missed the last game with the flu, prompting the Rangers to call up Brandon Halverson as the backup. Lundqvist did travel with the team for this road trip, but won’t start tonight and will be the backup. Rick Nash will not travel with the team.

Antti Raanta makes his second straight start, after a decent effort against Ottawa on Tuesday. Raanta is 9-4-0 in 16 appearances, with a 2.23 GAA and a .925 save percentage.

JT Miller has been demoted and given less ice time by Alain Vigneault recently, which he says is for one ice mistakes and him not performing up to par. Miller has no points in the last seven games and just four points in the last 17 games after a hot start to the season. It confuses me why Miller gets demoted for some bad decisions with the puck and his play on ice, while other guys, namely defenders, get a pass. But either way, Miller needs to step up his game and get AV believing in him again.

Derek Stepan had a tremendous game against the Senators, scoring two goals and giving him a team high 28 points (9-19-28). That gives him seven points (4-3-7) over the last four games, and 14 points in the last 13 games. He’s stepped up in a big way with some key guys injured, and he’ll be centering the teams most dynamic line of late with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello on his wings.

The Rangers and the Coyotes will face off at the Gila River Arena at 9 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

EXPECTED LINES

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-Michael Grabner

JT Miller-Marek Hrivik-Brandon Pirri

Matt Puempel-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Nick Holden

Brady Skjei-Kevin Klein

Antti Raanta

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

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