Surging Rangers visit slumping Predators (Dec 17, 2016)
Nothing Henrik Lundqvist does surprises the New York Rangers. Thursday night was merely the latest example in the goalie's All-Star career.
Returning to action after missing four games while Antti Raanta played superbly in his place, Lundqvist teamed with Raanta for a 2-0 shutout at Dallas.
Lundqvist didn't get the shutout, as he sat out 5:31 of the first period while in concussion protocol after being leveled behind the net by Stars center Cody Eakin. Fortunately for Lundqvist, he was able to return and stopped 27 shots for the win.
"I felt really good, but I could tell I hadn't played in a little while," Lundqvist said. "It was a little weird to be out there at first. I am not used to having a week (off). I felt fresh and excited to be out there."
While the Rangers didn't practice Friday, Lundqvist might be back in the lineup Saturday night when they finish their brief two-game road trip against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
At 21-10-1, New York leads the NHL in wins and is tied with Pittsburgh for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers only got better with the return of Lundqvist and Rick Nash (groin), who was idle for four games before breaking a scoreless tie in the third period at Dallas with a shorthanded goal.
New York coach Alain Vigneault was alternately happy with his team and furious with Eakin, who received a major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, and earned a four-game suspension from the NHL on Friday.
"They better do something about that and they better take care of business," Vigneault said. "As far as Hank's play, there's no doubt he played extremely well. He did what we expected and he gave us a real solid performance."
Meanwhile, Nashville (13-12-4) took a step backward Thursday night with a 5-2 home loss to Minnesota. Playing their first game after rallying from a 3-0 deficit Tuesday night to bag a 6-3 win over St. Louis, the Predators gave up two goals in 29 seconds late in the first period and never caught up.
It was the ninth straight game, dating to Nov. 27, that Nashville has allowed at least three goals.
"I thought our game was pretty good five-on-five," Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. "We let it slip for two minutes. We probably played 50 to 55 minutes that we really liked."
But blown defensive assignments continued to color Nashville's recent efforts. After going 9-3-2 in November, it is now 2-4-1 in December. Goalie Pekka Rinne, the NHL's First Star for November with a 1.49 goals-against average and .949 save percentage, has a save percentage of .848, although the defense in front of him hasn't helped.
"Everyone has to make a conscious effort to be better," Predators captain Mike Fisher said.
Saturday night's game will also mark the first game for Rangers left winger Jimmy Vesey in Nashville. A third-round pick by the Predators in the 2012 Entry Draft, Vesey opted not to sign with the organization after completing a great career at Harvard and wound up in New York after declining to sign with Buffalo, which acquired his rights via trade in June.
The reception for Vesey, who has 10 goals and seven assists in 31 games, is expected to be harsh.