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Rangers battle NHL best Columbus before the bye-week; Updates on Nash, Buchnevich, Zibanejad

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers-vs-blue-jackets-11-18

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

The Rangers (27-13-1) played one of their most complete games of the year on Wednesday, a 5-2 win over the Flyers, but now they face a tall task when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets (27-6-4) on the road, their last game before the league-mandated “bye-week.”

These two teams have become real rivals over the last few years, with each game featuring a bit of nastiness and an edge that each skater is playing with. Now that Columbus has the most points in the league and sit atop the Metropolitan Division, these games have even more meaning.

The Rangers got two goals from Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner, as well as one from Chris Kreider, in a win over the Flyers in their last game. Henrik Lundqvist was fantastic, making 30 saves, and the Rangers defense also looked good as Vigneault switched up the pairings with Marc Staal out.

The Blue Jackets saw their incredible 16-game win streak come to an end on Thursday following a 5-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Capitals. Stretching from Nov. 29 to Jan. 3, the Blue Jackets won every single game that they played, which puts them in a good position for the playoffs. But after losing, they’ll be hungry to get back in the win column.

This is the second of five meetings between these two teams, and the second in Columbus. The Blue Jackets won 4-2 back on Nov. 18, getting goals from William Karlsson, Sam Gagner, Matt Calvert and Boone Jenner. Grabner and Zibanejad scored, while Lundqvist made 20 saves on 23 shots.

Sergei Bobrovsky has regained his Vezina form, staying healthy and backstopping the Blue Jackets throughout their win streak. So far, he is 25-6-2 with a 2.03 GAA and a .930 save percentage, but his stats from December are even more impressive. He went 12-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and a .939 save percentage. Needless to say, he’ll be tough to beat.

Cam Atkinson has been a player mentioned in trade rumors for the past couple of seasons, and even connected to the Rangers. But he’s remained in Columbus, and they’re better off because of it. The 27 year-old winger is continuing his success from last year’s 27 goal, 53 point campaign, and is on pace to shatter those marks. With 18 goals and 20 assists in just 37 games, Atkinson is on pace for 40 goals and 84 points. He’s been a big reason for their success, and he has three goals in the last three games.

Rookie Zach Werenski was Columbus’ first round draft pick in 2015, selected eighth overall. While Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are making their case for the Calder Trophy, Werenski deserves some recognition. He already looks like a seasoned vet, playing top pairing minutes with Seth Jones and already recording 25 points (6-19-25). He has size, can skate extremely well, is an excellent passer and playmaker, and has already become Columbus’ best defenseman.

The Rangers are expected to start Henrik Lundqvist tonight. He was exceptional against the Flyers, making 30 saves including some crucial ones early on to keep the game scoreless. He’s had success against the Blue Jackets, posting a 9-4-1 record in 14 games, including a 6-1-0 line with a 1.99 GAA and a .936 save percentage in his last seven appearances.

The trio of Rick Nash, Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad are still out, but getting very close to returning to the team. Nash and Buchnevich participated in the full practice, and Buchnevich went to Hartford so he can play during the bye-week. He scored a goal in his first game there last night. Nash will not play until there is no pain in his injured groin, so he could be ready to go after the break. Mika Zibanejad has been skating, and the plan is to have him practice and see where his conditioning is at before getting him into the lineup. Lastly, Marc Staal remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Derek Stepan continued his stretch of excellent hockey on Wednesday, picking up an assist on Kreider’s goal. Stepan faked the play going one way before sneaking a backhand pass to his linemate. He’s looked very in-tune with his line of Kreider and Zuccarello, and has racking up the points as of late. He’s been great against Columbus, with a point in eight of the last nine games against them and 15 points in 14 career games.

Michael Grabner finally got back on the scoresheet, tallying two goals and giving him 16 on the year. For someone who was signed to be a fourth line penalty killer. He’s tied with Chris Kreider for the team lead in goals and has been pretty consistently great wherever he plays in the lineup. He has tallied five points (2-3-5) in five career road games against Columbus.

The Rangers and the Blue Jackets will faceoff at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on MSG2.

EXPECTED LINEUP

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-Michael Grabner

JT Miller-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast

Nicklas Jensen-Marek Hrivik-Brandon Pirri

Ryan McDonagh-Brady Skjei

Nick Holden-Dan Girardi

Adam Clendening-Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on January 7, 2017, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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