Friday, November 19, 2010

Pregame: New York Rangers vs. Colorado Avalanche 11/19/2010

The Rangers are in a familiar place having failed to capitalize on a momentum building win by following it with a loss after all the talk of turning points met the actual next game.  The Rangers followed Monday’s emotional and character building win with a tough loss to the Boston Bruins Wednesday’s.  The key for good teams is how they respond to having a winning streak snapped and the best ones just get right back on another one while mediocre and bad teams will continue the slide down.  Tonight in their quest to respond the Rangers make their longest trip away from the Garden this season as they hit the mountains of Colorado tonight to take on the Avalanche.  The game tonight will see the Rangers striving to continue their excellent road work of the early season which has netted them a 6-2 road mark.  Across the ice will be the Colorado Avalanche who defeated the Rangers earlier this season at MSG 3-1 on the back of 2 Chris Stewart power-play goals and themselves are looking to extend a small two game winning streak that has them sitting at 10-7-1 overall.
Rangers (10-8-1) at Colorado (10-7-1) 
Key Opposing Player: Chris Stewart (11-11-22)
Frolov- Stepan -Gaborik
Boogaard- Christensen -Avery

Staal - Girardi
Del Zotto - Eminger


Drury (Broken Finger), Rozsival (Shoulder), White (Healthy), Prospal (Knee)

The Rangers effort overall against Boston was good, but there was inconsistency in their effort and attentiveness to details that would eventually cost them the game.
  The defensive turnovers need to stop as not only are they handing Henrik Lundqvist out to dry, but they are allowing the other team to get goals they didn’t really have to earn.  It is one thing for a team to outwork you and beat you face up but it is another to gift them goals and then have to work so hard to get your own scores.  Stick to the fundamentals and this team is fine it is when they try to do too much they get themselves in trouble.

Offensively tonight I expect the typical performance from the Rangers two most consistent lines of Brandon Dubinsky – Artem Anisimov – Ryan Callahan and Ruslan Fedotenko – Brian Boyle – Brandon Prust, little from the fourth line and the wild card appears to be the top line which has played musical chairs to an extent with the man in the pivot position.  I expect based on the way Stepan and Gaborik played together in the third period against Boston that we will see a lot of the combination as they start to increase back the role of Stepan after he hit a wall for a while there.  The Rangers have seen the explosive Gaborik in two of the four games he has been back, but even in that the Edmonton game was the only game where he played like he wanted to be a factor the entire game and the Rangers need him to be more consistent in his impact not just for himself and the scoreboard but because of the space it will then create for his line-mates and the confidence it creates on the bench.

On defense the Rangers will need to cut out the turnovers of the other night and bring a physical game to match the play of guys like Chris Stewart who in the previous matchup got both of his goals by out toughing the defender who was on him during the play.  Steve Eminger and Michael Sauer will both look to continue building on their excellent play of late and I would like to Sauer get some more time while he has seen a bump to 14 minutes a night with Michal Rozsival out the lineup I think he can easily take 16-17 with more PK time being the easiest place to find it.  The task for this defensive core will not be easy as they are taking on one of the best scoring teams in the league though staying out of the box and away from their deadly power-play (20.9%) which beat the Rangers twice in the last meeting would be a great start.

On the Colorado side of the ledger is the hot Avalanche who have won 2 straight and are 6-3 in their last nine outings.  Their home record is not overly impressive at 5-4 which will add to the Rangers already high road confidence.  This team is built to score and score a lot if they are going to win consistently.  Led by Chris Stewart, Paul Stastny, Miilan Hedjuk, Matt Duchene and a career start for John-Michael Liles this offense currently ranks 4th in the league averaging 3.44 goals a game.   On the flip side they are 22nd in goals against at 3.11 per game so the Rangers should have their opportunities at goals of their own.  Also if the Rangers can get power-plays of their own the Colorado PK is 28th at only 75% killed.

The key offensive figures I named above, but I want to focus on Chris Stewart who during the playoffs last season I suggested the Rangers look to sign to an offer sheet this past summer.  Stewart, the recently turned 23 year old right wing, is only adding to last year’s breakout season and taking steps to be considered not only one of the league’s best young power forwards, but best players with his 11 goals 11 assists in 18 games.  The Rangers saw first-hand what he can when on his first goal of the night he outmuscled Marc Staal getting to the front of the net and converted with a beautiful deflection on the John Michael Liles shot.  On his second goal, the eventual game winner, the Rangers, specifically Michal Rozsival could not move the big bodied winger out of the goal mouth area, and he would shove the puck by Henrik Lundqvist.  As I said earlier they must be more physical with Stewart in this game or he will repeat the performance.

I know I espoused the depth that offense for Colorado has but if I was coaching I would put Staal and Girardi together in this one because stopping Stastny and Stewart has to be the first priority to beating the Avalanche.  The Av’s have been more than those two and just their forwards this season and John-Michael Liles is having a career year with 3-5-18 in 18 games.  In net things looked back when Craig Anderson went down a few weeks ago but Budaj while shaky at times has been good enough to support the offense he has in front of him, though it looks like Anderson will be back for the first time since October 26th.

Prediction: Expect a shootout, Stepan, Gaborik and Anisimov score, Av’s Win 4-3.

Opponent Blog: Mile High Hockey