SENATORS (12-8-4) at RANGERS (12-8-2)
TV: RDS, TSN, MSG
Last 10: Ottawa 5-3-2; New York 7-3-2
Season series: This is the second of three meetings, with the final one March 25 at Ottawa. The Senators won 3-2 in a shootout on Feb. 21 at home even though their starting goalie, Craig Anderson, had to leave in the third period with an injury.
Big story: The Senators limped into the halfway point of their season with a four-game losing streak that followed a five-game winning streak (three via shootout). They have dropped from fourth place in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 26 to sixth, five points ahead of ninth.
"I don't think it matters who we play in our next game; the next game for us is a big game because we need to find a way to win," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said Thursday.
They play the Rangers, who have won four in a row after a 2-1 overtime victory against the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Rangers trail the Senators by two points and the fifth-place Toronto Maple Leafs by four, with games in hand on each.
Senators: After winning their first two road games, Ottawa has gone 1-7-2 away from home. This ends a five-game trip, with three of the following five also on the road.
"At home I think we seem to have the lead more often or longer, and I think we've been better defensively at home," MacLean said. "I don't know if it's some of the youth of our team, when we come on the road and we play in some of these buildings -- the first time in Boston, the first time here in New York, first time in Montreal. I think there's a lot of guys with first times, and maybe that probably has a little bit to do with it.
"But for the most part, we don't seem to play with the same composure on the road as we do at home."
The Senators will take comfort from playing in Madison Square Garden, where they won two playoff games last spring and are 11-1-1 in the regular season since 2005-06.
"We've had some history in this building of playing well," MacLean acknowledged. "We know we're playing a difficult opponent, although they appear to have a couple of injuries as well. We'll go over those and study a little but more.
"But they still have [Henrik] Lundqvist in the net, they still have [Marian] Gaborik, and Rick Nash is back playing pretty well for them, so we'll have our hands full, and we have to make sure we come here ready to repeat what we did in Toronto [a 5-4 loss Wednesday] and do that just a little bit better."
Goalie Robin Lehner will make his third start in place of Ben Bishop with Anderson still sidelined. Lehner has stopped 77 of 81 shots (.951 save percentage) in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins and a 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders.
"Robin has had an outstanding season in the American Hockey League, he probably is the best player, the MVP in the American Hockey League, and every game he plays here he plays well," MacLean said.
Rangers: New York played its first game without minutes-eating defenseman Marc Staal, who is out indefinitely with an eye injury. Roman Hamrlik, claimed on waivers Wednesday, jumped right in and played 15:48 on the third pair with Steve Eminger.
"I thought Hamrlik and Eminger, especially in the first period, played really well," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "... [We] felt very comfortable as far as using all six (defensemen)."
Hamrlik has played 1,384 NHL games since making his debut in 1992. The five other Rangers defensemen who played Thursday have a combined 1,578.
"Especially in that position, defense, you can always lean on some experience," Tortorella said. "You can see that he has some puck skills. He made a lot of nice little plays coming out of our end zone, used the middle of the ice coming out of our end zone.
"He's not in shape; I mean, there's no question he's not in shape. But again, a guy like that who's played so long can get things done because of the savvy."
The rest of the Rangers seem to be in shape, with Tortorella relying primarily on his top two forward lines as they pushed for the tying goal against the Islanders, even with this back-to-back looming.
"I think our conditioning's coming because they didn't miss a beat; they just kept on grinding," Tortorella said.
Who's hot: Senators forward Zach Smith had a goal and an assist Wednesday, his first goal in 43 games, since March 8, 2012, against the Rangers. … Nash scored his eighth goal of the season, all in the third period. Forward Derek Stepan has six points in his past four games; Gaborik has points in his past three.
Injury report: MacLean said forward Dave Dziurzynski, who suffered a concussion when knocked out in a fight with Toronto's Frazer McLaren on Wednesday, has symptoms but is improving. Forward Jason Spezza (back surgery) has increased his workouts and could be a month from a return. Anderson [sprained ankle] is two weeks into a 2-4 week recovery. … Staal is expected to make a full recovery. Forward Brad Richards (back, neck) has missed two games. Forward Arron Asham also is out.
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