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Strong defensive play has helped the New York Rangers to the top of the Atlantic Division, but that play has grown shakier of late. Hosting the low-scoring Phoenix Coyotes should help them get back on track.
New York looks to get a stronger defensive effort and avoid losing three straight games for the first time this season on Monday when it plays the slumping Coyotes, who are trying to avoid dropping six straight games for the first time in two seasons.
New York (14-7-2) lost 6-3 to Vancouver on Wednesday, then fell 4-1 to Ottawa on Saturday to drop consecutive games for the fourth time this year. The Rangers, who have not lost three in a row since a five-game slide Jan. 2-10, had allowed four goals or more in just two of their first 21 games.
New York's offense didn't do much to help the struggling defense on Saturday, when it mustered a season-low 19 shots on goal.
"The bottom line for us is that we needed to compete harder than we did," Rangers coach Tom Renney told the team's official Web site. "We didn't do what we need to do in order to win until well after the horse was out of the barn."
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is likely to be back in net after backup Steve Valiquette made 32 saves on Saturday.
Lundqvist hasn't played since being pulled less than six minutes into the second period on Wednesday, after he allowed five goals on 17 shots. Lundqvist, who has a NHL-best 12 victories and ranks eighth in the league with a 2.15 goals-against average, had posted a 1.59 GAA in winning his three previous starts.
In his only career start against the Coyotes (8-9-2) on Oct. 28, 2006, Lundqvist made 23 saves in New York's 7-3 win.
Last season, the Rangers lost 5-1 to Phoenix at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 16, snapping a three-game winning streak over the Coyotes.
Phoenix is in the midst of a five-game losing streak overall. The Coyotes have not dropped six straight games since Feb. 7-19, 2007.
They picked up a point in Saturday's 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia, but they were in position to earn two until the Flyers' Jeff Carter tied the score with 1:07 left in regulation.
"We played a pretty solid game and let it slip away," Coyotes defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "With Murphy's law, it just broke down and went the other way."
Phoenix's struggles with the man advantage are a big reason for the skid.
The Coyotes have converted just 9.4 percent (3-for-32) of power-play chances during their losing streak, and 13.6 percent this season - second-worst in the league.
The Rangers, meanwhile, rank second in the NHL with an 89.9 penalty-killing percentage.
Despite going 0-3-1 with a 3.21 GAA in his last four starts, Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is expected to be back in net after getting a rest Saturday. Bryzgalov made 34 saves in the Coyotes' win over the Rangers last season.