On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks host an Original Six opponent in the New York Rangers. Because the Rangers are an Eastern Conference team, this will be the only time the United Center will see them this year. With that in mind, here’s what to look for in tonight’s game between two of the great, old franchises in the NHL.
The Rangers come into Wednesday night tied with the Flyers and the Islanders for second/last place in the Atlantic Division. With Pittsburgh and New Jersey both at 41 points, the Rangers, Flyers and Islanders’ all with 29 points are fighting for a shot at the back end of the playoffs. New York has lost four of their last five, and have been outscored 22-9 over that stretch.
Since November 7, the Rangers have only converted five of 38 power play opportunities (13.1 percent). During that same stretch, their defense has struggled as well, killing only 38 of 48 power plays (79.2 percent).
Henrik Lundqvist has struggled, but the Rangers defense is allowing 30 hots per game. Lundqvist is 12-11 with a 2.64 goals against average. His .914 save percentage is almost the same as Cristobal Huet’s, however.
So far, not a very good picture for the Rangers. They’re struggling, and on paper their defense isn’t very good. It would be a mistake to write this game off, though.
Marian Gaborik comes into Wednesday night’s game the leading goal scorer in the NHL with 21, and his 38 points are second in the NHL behind San Jose’s Joe Thornton (40). To put those numbers in perspective, Patrick Kane leads the Blackhawks with nine goals and 23 points. Vaclav Prospal is also having a good start to his season in New York, leading the Rangers with 20 assists and is second on the team with 26 points.
The Rangers’ offense, behind Gaborik and Prospal, is averaging 2.79 goals per game, but they’re allowing 3.03 per game. When you’re being outscored, you’re losing games, and the Rangers are models of that being true.
A couple other players on the Rangers to watch for Wednesday night are Donald Brashear and Sean Avery. Brashear is averaging 2.93 penalty minutes per game this year, and will drop the gloves with anyone willing. I wouldn’t recommend anyone on the Hawks agitate the 37-year old, though; Brashear fights as much as he does because he rarely loses. He missed the Rangers’ last game with a hand injury, though.
Avery of course is the definition of annoying; a rule was created specifically because Avery’s favorite approach to posting up in front of the net was to face the goaltender and wave his hands in the goaltender’s face, not even playing the puck. That’s now illegal, but has always been obnoxious. Entering Wednesday’s action, Avery has scored 18 points and served 46 penalty minutes in 24 games.
For the Blackhawks, the matchup looks great on paper.
The Hawks PK has been exceptional all year, and hasn’t allowed a goal in four games. Meanwhile, the Hawks power play has taken off since Jonathan Toews returned from his concussion. Since November 9, the Hawks have converted 11 of 39 power plays (29.7 percent). Considering the Rangers spend over 15 minutes per game shorthanded, Wednesday night could be a great night for the Hawks’ snipers.
After winning eight straight, though, the Blackhawks are just 2-2-1 in their last five games. In front of a home crowd, the Blackhawks will hopefully return to their dominating form and put on a great show at the United Center tonight.