Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pregame: New York Rangers at Dallas Stars

The Rangers kick off the second half by heading out on a two game trip to the Western Conference that kicks off with the surprising Dallas Stars.  The team is obviously hoping for better results than their last two game road trip which was in Florida last weekend and looking to build on the momentum of Zuccarello’s overtime winner.  Both of these teams have exceeded preseason expectations as the Rangers come in 7th in the Eastern Conference with 49 points while the Stars an even more impressive 3rd in the tough Western Conference with 52 points on the year.  The Rangers will put their 13-7-1 road record on the line against a very good 12-6-3 home mark for Dallas.  Coach John Tortorella has repeatedly said this week that it is only going to get tougher from here and matchups like this are what he is referring to.

New York Rangers (23-15-3) at Dallas Stars (24-13-4)

Key Opposing Player: Brad Richards (18-29-47)

Rangers Lineup:

Dubinsky - Stepan - Zuccarello
Avery - Anisimov - Gaborik
Fedotenko - Boyle - Prust
Frolov - Drury - Weise

Staal - Girardi
Eminger - Sauer
McDonagh - Gilroy


Scratches: Rozsival (rib injury), Erik Christensen (knee), Derek Boogaard (concussion)

Wednesday night against Carolina was the Rangers most complete game in some time as they got back to the style of play they need to utilize in order to be a successful club.  The team had its best game in terms of puck possession, forecheck pressure and also defensively in terms of limiting the odd-man rushes against.  The Rangers had three effective lines against Carolina and will likely employ the same units in this game. 

The biggest question mark to whether they will have the same kind of game will be if Sean Avery and Marian Gaborik will show the same sort of involvement in the play they had the other night.  With Sean Avery returning to Dallas for the first time since 2008 it is safe to assume that he will ready to go for this one.  You can also assume that the Dallas players who were there during his tenure will ready as well and do not be surprised if Avery ends up having to drop the gloves before the night is over.

The key line for the Rangers in producing offensive chances will once again be the combination of Dubinsky, Stepan and Zuccarello.  For the past two games since they were put back together and really all three in which they were a unit they have done a great job of creating chances, but a little more finish would always be appreciated.  The net should certainly seem bigger to Zuccarello-Aasen after getting his first career NHL goal in the last game and let us hope it sparks him on a hot streak.

Defensively it will come down to Henrik Lundqvist who has been stellar of late and will need to be again against a very dangerous Stars offense.  As usual the burden will be on Marc Staal and Dan Girardi to not only shut down the opponents best players, but to eat minutes like Brodeur eats through the buffet line.  In the last game Staal played 30:10 while Girardi only logged 29:18 and I would not expect any less work as they try to neutralize Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, and James Neal.

While Brad Richards will get the majority of the attention from the New York media due to speculation around him possibly becoming a Ranger as I said there is more to this offense than just one great player.  Loui Eriksson has 44 points, Mike Ribiero 34, James Neal 30, and Brendan Morrow 27.  The Rangers by contrast only have one player with more than 23 in Dubinsky who has 34.  It will be beyond just Staal and Girardi if the Rangers are going to slow this offense down.

Prediction: Dallas 3, Rangers 2