Rangers host Senators, look to end home woes
Sitting atop the Metropolitan Division and with one of the league's best records, it may be hard to find fault with the New York Rangers' play.
Recent results at Madison Square Garden seem to indicate otherwise.
The Rangers look to halt a three-game home losing streak as they meet the surging Ottawa Senators for the first time this season Sunday night.
New York won six of its last nine against Ottawa, but the three losses all came in Manhattan. That's where New York (15-6-1) got off to a hot start this season, winning eight of its first nine and outscoring the opposition 42-19.
However, the Rangers were outscored 13-6 in consecutive losses to the struggling Vancouver Canucks, the Florida Panthers and the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Ottawa comes into this contest in position for a season-high fourth straight victory.
A reason for those struggles could be traced to Michael Grabner, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes all slumping simultaneously.
From Oct. 13 through Nov. 6, nine Rangers had at least seven points at Madison Square Garden. Miller led the way with 12 points (five goals, seven assists), followed by Hayes with 11 (five goals, six assists) and Grabner -- enjoying a career resurgence -- had eight, including six goals.
Over the last three home games, though, Miller and Grabner haven't had a point and Hayes recorded one assist.
In the Rangers' 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday, Hayes scored and Miller drew an assist, but the star of the game was Henrik Lundqvist as he made 19 of his season-high 40 saves in the third period.
"Tonight we weren't great; our goaltender was," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal told the New York Daily News.
With a minimum of 35 career appearances, Lundqvist has a losing record against only one opponent. In 36 games against the Senators, Lundqvist is 15-17-3 with a 2.08 goals-against average, .931 save percentage and one shutout. When he faces them at home, though, "King Henrik" is 5-12-2 with a 2.32 GAA and .921 save percentage.
Lundqvist needs one win to tie Mike Vernon for 13th on the career victories list with 385.
Antti Raanta, who relieved Lundqvist in Wednesday's 6-1 home loss to Pittsburgh, gave up five goals and lost in his only appearance against the Senators in 2014 while with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ottawa (13-7-1) is coming off Saturday's 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Craig Anderson stopped 32 shots and Kyle Turris broke a 1-1 tie with 3:32 to play.
In eight career starts at Madison Square Garden, Anderson is 6-1-1 with a 1.59 GAA, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts. However, Anderson has been on the losing end in each of his last two games there, surrendering six goals.
Ottawa coach Guy Boucher did not immediately say if Anderson or Mike Condon would start in goal. Condon hasn't played since giving up a season-high five goals in a loss to the Nashville Predators on Nov. 17.
"That's why you've got flights," Boucher said. "It gives you a bit of time to reflect on what you want to do the next day."
Ottawa has surrendered the opening goal in 11 straight games, posting a 6-4-1 record.
"You don't want to get in the habit of playing from behind, but we're showing good mental toughness by not letting a goal affect the way we play," Anderson said.
The Senators also are 2-0-0 in the second games of back-to-back contests this season.
Surprisingly, the Senators' most productive scorer at Madison Square Garden is Chris Kelly with seven goals, including a pair of game-winners, and two assists in 11 games. Kelly, who returned to Ottawa as a free agent in July after five-plus seasons with the Boston Bruins, has a goal and two assists in 21 games but hasn't registered a point in 13 straight.
New York's Matt Puempel won't have to wait long for a chance to face his former team. Puempel, a first-round pick by Ottawa in 2011, was claimed off waivers by the Rangers on Monday, one day after ex-Senator Mike Zibanejad suffered a broken leg that's expected to sideline him for up to two months.
Puempel, who failed to earn a point in 13 games with Ottawa, scored in his first game with the Rangers on Friday -- and took a shot at his former organization.
"They let you play here. They let you play to your strengths," Puempel told the New York Post on Saturday. "They know there are going to be mistakes. They're not barking at you every time you come off the ice. It's beneficial."
The Rangers acquired Zibanejad in July for Derick Brassard and swapped picks in the 2018 NHL Draft. Zibanejad, a two-time 20-goal scorer at 23 years old, had five goals and 10 assists in 19 games.
Brassard is struggling with his new club, posting three goals, including one on the power play, and six assists in 21 games.
The 29-year-old Brassard averaged 21.3 goals and 33 assists in three full seasons with New York from 2013-16. He also provided a spark on the power play, leading the team with eight man-advantage goals last season and tying for the team lead with seven in 2013-14.