Clearly motivated by the opportunity to test themselves against the NHL’s best – and to exact some revenge – the New York Rangers have aced the first two games on their California road trip.
Standing in the way of a sweep is a San Jose Sharks team that should be happy to play anyone other than St. Louis.
The Sharks dealt the Rangers a blowout loss in the last meeting at the SAP Center, but San Jose has dropped two in a row at home and is coming off another rout at the hands of the Blues going into Saturday night’s matchup.
New York (23-11-4) has won 12 of 13 after knocking off Anaheim 4-1 on Wednesday and Los Angeles 4-3 on Thursday. Despite the back-to-back and falling behind 2-0 early in the first period, the Rangers scored four unanswered goals and held on for another impressive victory in their first visit to Staples Center since the Kings’ Stanley Cup-clinching overtime victory in June.
”It’s a tough building to come in and play, and obviously we didn’t fare very well in here last time,” said backup Cam Talbot, who made 28 saves. ”It’s a good measuring stick for us. It was great to get a win in a building like this.”
New York swung the momentum with its red-hot power play, as Dan Boyle’s goal midway through the first began the run of four straight goals. New York has gone 10 for 23 with the man advantage in its last seven games, recording at least one power-play goal in all but one.
San Jose has allowed opponents to score six times in 13 chances over the past four games.
"Right now things are going well on the power play, guys are feeling good, and there’s a confidence when we have the puck that maybe we didn’t have a month ago," said Boyle, who has seven of his nine points on the power play.
The visit to Staples held plenty of significance for the Rangers, and that should also be the case for Boyle in this game as he faces San Jose for the first time since signing with New York in July. Boyle played the previous six seasons with the Sharks.
As hot as the Rangers have been, San Jose (22-15-5) should be very eager to get back on the ice against any opponent that isn’t the Blues. After a 7-2 home loss to them last Saturday, the Sharks recorded wins at Winnipeg and Minnesota before Thursday’s visit to St. Louis – where they were routed 7-2 again.
After playing its third road game in four nights, San Jose returns home to face a Rangers team that will be in the exact same situation.
”You can sit here and make every single excuse in the book, but to lose 7-2 is unacceptable with this team that we have,” center Logan Couture said. ”We just got beat plain and simple, again, by that team. We’re better than what we’ve shown."
Couture had a goal and an assist Thursday to give him two goals and five assists in his last five games. He’ll have some help as center and top playmaker Joe Thornton, who has a team-high 24 assists, was activated from injured reserve after missing the last four contests with a shoulder injury.
New York didn’t have very good memories coming into Los Angeles on Thursday, and its recent memories of San Jose aren’t any better. The Rangers were pounded 9-2 in their last visit Oct. 8, 2013, with Tomas Hertl recording four goals.
Hertl has not scored in his last 10 games.
New York took the first meeting of the season 4-0 on Oct. 19 behind Henrik Lundqvist’s 33 saves, and he’s expected back in net Friday.
San Jose is 2-0-1 in the past three matchups at home.