Rangers try to end skid vs. Canadiens

The New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens meet at the Bell Centre on Thursday in a battle of two teams playing out disappointing seasons and waiting to see what other changes are looming before the NHL trade deadline Monday at 3 p.m.

The Rangers (27-28-5), an Eastern Conference contender for the last few years, made it clear Feb. 8 they were shifting into a rebuild mode and shipped out defenseman Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins for defenseman Rob O’Gara and a 2018 third-round draft pick Tuesday.

Rangers forwards Rick Nash, Michael Grabner and David Desharnais, who are all on expiring contracts, could be playing their last game for the Blueshirts.

“It’s tough to really express what’s going on right now,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told the New York Post on Wednesday. “This is a little awkward, in the sense that we came out and we said it. A lot of times teams do it but don’t say it. So it makes it a little bit more challenging as far as team dynamics.”

Rangers president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton had a press conference Feb. 8 and announced to the New York faithful the goal had shifted to the long term and away from trying to save this season. The Rangers have lost four in a row in regulation and given up 19 goals in those games heading into their game against the Canadiens.

The Rangers will be getting some help against the Canadiens. Veteran defenseman Marc Staal will return. He has been out since Feb. 3 when he sustained a cervical strain, missing eight games.

“It’s been hard to watch. We haven’t had very much success so it’s not easy to sit there and not be in the room with the guys,” Staal told the team’s website. “I’m glad to be back in and get some good feeling in the room, knock out a couple of wins and go from there.”

The Canadiens goaltending situation is up in the air heading into the game against the Rangers. Montreal goaltender Carey Price will not play, according to Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, after Price was hit in the head with a shot by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere during the Canadiens 3-2 loss in overtime Tuesday.

Price appeared stunned after the puck deflected off the right side of his head, but he stayed in the game.

The Canadiens (22-29-8) called up goaltender Charlie Lindgren from their AHL farm team in Laval. Lindgren, 24, is 3-4-1 with a .924 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average for The Rocket this season.

It’s not known if Lindgren or Antti Niemi will start against the Rangers.

The Canadiens also called up defenseman Noah Juulsen from Laval after the Habs traded defenseman Jakub Jerabek to the Washington Capitals for a fifth-round draft pick in 2019 on Wednesday.

Canadiens coach Claude Julien said defenseman Shea Weber, who has been out for two months with a left foot injury, was to see a specialist Wednesday.

The Canadiens will be looking to put all the injury and trade distractions to the side and end a six-game winless streak.

“Everybody comes to work and everybody comes to try and get better,” Canadiens defenseman Joe Morrow told montrealcanadiens.com. “That’s just kind of the main mindset of people, is that you individually come in and try to progress in your hockey career and try to progress this team and enjoy the time you have here together. That’s all you can do.”

Said Julien: “They’re frustrated, but they’re still working hard and I think they still have the right attitude to try and improve things. When you see that from your players, it shows their character. We’re still hungry even if the losses might not show it. The guys are competing hard.”