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Tonight is a make-or-break game for the Rangers and for AV as big changes loom  

Bobby Bevilacqua

av and ruff

Rangers head coachAlain Vigneault (left), could be replaced by assistant coach Lindy Ruff (right) if things go awry in tonight’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images.)

Following a loss to the Canadiens in which the Rangers (3-7-2) were thoroughly outplayed and saw their comeback, the Blueshirts look to rebound on a brief stop at home to play the Vegas Golden Knights (8-2-0) for the first time ever.

This has sparked trade rumors, articles from beat reporters about tonight potentially being Alain Vigneault’s last game as head coach of the Rangers if things go wrong, and more following the game, especially if the result and the team’s play is similar to their last game against Montreal.

Last night also saw some of the Rangers highest members of their management attend the Ottawa-Canadiens game, including president Glen Sather and assistant general manager Jim Schoenfeld. It’s very rare for a team to send people as senior staff like them to one game, so something big might be in the works.

The Rangers desperately need a center after failing to replace Derek Stepan, so perhaps the 23 year-old Alex Galchenyuk, who appears to be the latest player to become unwelcome on the team, being placed on the fourth line despite the team’s scoring troubles and his talent. Larry Brooks also suggested that the team may be interested in Andrew Shaw because of his versatility and his aggressive playstyle. Other rumors have included a Chris Kreider trade to Edmonton and that the Rangers are looking at Marc Crawford, associate coach for the Senators, as a potential replacement for Alain Vigneault.

Although the outlook for the Rangers looks a bit unclear, one thing is certain; if the Rangers don’t turn things around, and quickly, there will be some more big changes, whether that be to the coaching staff or the players on the roster. And it all could come to a head as soon as the puck drops against the Golden Knights tonight at Madison Square Garden.

Vegas is coming off of a 6-3 loss at the hands of the New York Islanders, just the second loss in their 10 game history. However, it saw yet another Vegas goalie succumb to injury, meaning for tonight’s game, head coach Gerard Gallant is down to his fourth and fifth string goalie.

Starting in net tonight is Maxime Lagace, who made his NHL debut last night in relief of the injured Oscar Dansk and allowed four goals on 11 shots. He has three years of professional experience in the AHL and the ECHL, with some not-so-impressive stats at all levels.

His backup will be the 19 year old Dylan Ferguson, who was recalled on an emergency basis from the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. In 13 games this year, he has a 4.05 GAA and a .878 save percentage. Needless to say, the Golden Knights are on thin ice with their goaltending.

However, the rest of the team has been performing very well and has guided Vegas to the best start in NHL history for an expansion franchise. Top scorer James Neal has 10 points (7-3-10) in 10 games, but the team has gotten secondary scoring from throughout the lineup, with 14 players recording at least 4 points this season. David Perron (3-4-7) and Reilly Smith (2-5-7) have both been valuable depth wingers for Vegas, while center William Karlsson has scores five points (3-2-5) in the last 5 games. Former Ranger Oscar Lindberg will play tonights, and has four goals this season.

On the defensive side of things, Shea Theodore is expected to make his Vegas debut tonight after the team selected the highly touted youngster from the Anaheim Ducks in the expansion draft. In 8 AHL games this season, Theodore has scored five goals and 11 points.

The Rangers will counter with Henrik Lundqvist in net, who has not played in the last two games when Vigneault decided to play Ondrej Pavelec instead. Pavelec made 38 saves and allowed 5 goals in the loss, but was under fire the entire time, including an awful first period when his team was outshot 19-2.

Lundqvist has had some issues and miscues this season, sporting a 3.11 GAA and a .900 save percentage, but he’s also had some brilliant moments and kept the Rangers in games they had no business competing in. He will look to take a much needed step up and try to turn both his season around and the teams’ season as well.

The Rangers still have some talent on the roster despite their struggled. Mika Zibanejad is enjoying a solid start to his season, with a team leading 7 goals and 10 points, and has been a force on the power play. His 5v5 play does need to improve, but that’s also a factor of the team’s struggles as well as his changing line mates. JT Miller also has recorded 10 points (2-8-2) and Pavel Buchnevish is tied for third in the team lead in scoring with 8 points (4-4-8), scoring three goals and four points in the last three games despite playing on the fourth line for most of the time and not getting the ice time he deserves, However, he is projected to play on the first line tonight.

Kevin Shattenkirk is still adjusting to the Rangers system and searching for a steady defensive partner, and has had some struggles in his own zone. But he has been one of the more productive defenseman in the league, with nine points (2-7-9) in 12 games, as well as five points on the power play. Ryan McDonagh has had five different defensive partners at even strength already, but will stick with Brendan Smith for the fourth straight game. Despite the constant changes and the teams’ struggles, McDonagh has five points, all assists, and a team high 53.5 Corsi with a -1 plus/minus rating, even if you don’t include empty netters.

The only lineup change will be Steven Kampfer in for Nick Holden, who has really struggled this season and appears to have regressed to his former self.

Tonight is a huge game for the Rangers, with another catastrophic result potentially meaning big changes for the coaching staff and the players, as well as making the playoffs even harder to attain. Against a fourth string goalie, this is a game the team must win, but Vegas has proven that they are not going to be easy to defeat. The puck drop will be at 7 pm at Madison Square Garden and the game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

Rick Nash-Kevin Hayes-Mats Zuccarello

Jimmy Vesey-David Desharnais-JT Miller

Michael Grabner-Boo Nieves-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Brendan Smith

Brady Skjei-Kevin Shattenkirk

Marc Staal-Steven Kampfer

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on October 31, 2017, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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