Rangers brace for rematch with Hurricanes
Because of an odd scheduling quirk, the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon will meet at Madison Square Garden for the second time in five days.
The Rangers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Hurricanes 3-2 on Tuesday behind a goal and an assist from left winger Rick Nash. There was no momentum carried into New York's next game in Buffalo, as the Sabres won 4-3 to prevent the Rangers from winning consecutive games for the first time in more than two weeks.
What has been the biggest problem for the Rangers over the first two months? Oddly, it hasn't been offense, as the team is averaging a league-best 3.64 goals-per game. Instead, it's been goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, whose .914 save percentage would be his lowest since 2007-08.
Lundqvist ranks 17th in save percentage, which is well below the standard he has set throughout his career. He lamented allowing a long goal to Buffalo's Jack Eichel that led to the Rangers' fifth loss in eight games.
"It just froze me," Lundqvist said to the New York Daily News. "It looked like he was gonna pass it. It's a hard shot but you need to stop it. I need to challenge that more. I was expecting a pass. I was already thinking about what was gonna happen next and instead he goes for the shot, and that's what good players do."
The Rangers haven't done much to help their goaltenders over the past five games. They've been outshot in four of those games and by an overall margin of 162-119. That's stark change from a team that had been dominating opponents to start the season, but center Derek Stepan says teams have adjusted to the New York's speed.
"I do know that we built an identity for ourselves and teams understand that they can't afford turnovers against us, so they're getting it in and forcing us to come the full length," Stepan said to the New York Post. "They're making us do what we want to force teams to do, which is defend. Teams are ready for us. They've adjusted. Now we have to."
The Hurricanes were one of those teams that stifled the Rangers, holding them to 21 shots Tuesday. Goaltender Cam Ward allowed three goals and wasn't at his best, although he bounced back in Carolina's 2-1 shootout loss to the Bruins in Boston on Thursday. He stopped 34 of 35 shots and will likely get a chance to redeem himself against the Rangers.
"Cam continues to play great, making all the saves that he can see," Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey said.
A problem for the Hurricanes for most of this season has been finding the extra point in overtimes and shootouts. They have played six games that have gone beyond regulation and have won just once. Those five points they've left on the table are the difference between their current 14th-place spot in the Eastern Conference and a wild-card spot.
"There's no frustration. You've got to find a way to get the next one, right?" Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said of the Boston loss to the News & Observer. "You've got to get to three (goals). Three's a real good number. We got one on the power play and theirs wasn't an even-strength goal in the game.
"We had some even-strength chances. We've got to find a way to score."