Panthers, Rangers look to shore up defense
NEW YORK -- In recent weeks, the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers were playing reasonably well. Then they encountered nightmares in defending Thursday and gave up seven goals on rinks separated by more than 500 miles.
While the Rangers were struggling to prevent the rival New York Islanders from scoring in Brooklyn, the Panthers were experiencing the same problems against the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
Both teams will be hoping to rebound from difficult games Saturday night when the Rangers host the Panthers.
The teams met Oct. 23 in New York when Mika Zibanejad scored twice and had two assists in a 5-2 Rangers win. Since then, both are decent runs despite the ugly showings Thursday.
Since the last meeting, the Rangers are 6-3-2 in their last 11 games and the Panthers are 6-3 in their last nine games.
The Rangers gained a point in seven straight games (6-0-1) before absorbing a 7-5 loss to the New York Islanders. The Panthers outscored opponents 19-6 during a five-game winning streak before it crashed to a halt with a 7-3 loss to the Blue Jackets.
Besides allowing seven goals, both teams played similar games.
The Rangers scored the first two goals in a span of 35 seconds, gave up the next three, tied the game before allowing three more.
Florida scored the first goals, allowed the next three, tied it and gave up four in the third period.
It was the type of loss that led coach David Quinn to describe his team as being "soft around the net," especially after allowing three goals via tap-ins.
"That's Hockey 101," Quinn said after the Rangers allowed seven goals for the second time this season. "That's stuff you learn in squirts and peewees and the simple fact was we didn't pick sticks up.
"They just scored way too easily tonight and that's something that we haven't been doing, so it's unfortunate.
"Obviously, we got off to a good start and we couldn't ride the momentum because we just didn't do the most simplistic of things, which is when you're standing next to someone, you've got to pick their stick up."
Meanwhile in Columbus, Panthers coach Bob Boughner chalked it to up to one of those bad nights.
"We just didn't have it tonight," Boughner said. "Give Columbus credit, we just didn't get it done. Like I said, I think that we're disappointed. We had an opportunity that slipped away a little bit."
Despite the poor defensive showings, both teams have players on decent rolls of late.
Chris Kreider scored twice Thursday for the Rangers and six of his team-leading 10 goals are in the last eight games. Kevin Hayes also scored a short-handed goal for the Rangers, giving him two goals and seven assists in the last eight games.
Mike Hoffman had an assist Thursday in Columbus and his 14-game points streak broke the team record set by Pavel Bure in 1999-00. Hoffman set up a first-period goal to Aaron Ekblad and has seven goals and nine assists during the run.
"It'd be a little better if we could celebrate tonight," Hoffman said. "But we'll have to wait for another point for that."
Also, Florida's offense is performing at its best clip in team history, averaging 3.19 goals per game and converting 23.2 percent of its power plays. The Panthers scored twice on the man advantage Thursday and are 9 of 24 on power plays in the last six games.
New York may have a new player in the lineup after obtaining Ryan Strome from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner. Strome was obtained Friday afternoon and it's possible he may be available Saturday.
The Rangers are 12-2-3 in the last 17 meetings with the Panthers.