NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers are looking at their game Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) as a measuring-stick game, particularly since they have lost to the Lightning twice in the past 15 days.
The Lightning still are trying to get used to being the team against which others measure themselves. It's a concept coach Jon Cooper called flattering but hard to understand, even though Tampa Bay's record and statistics suggest it should be easy to figure out.
The Lightning are tied with the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders for the most points in the Eastern Conference with 34. They lead the NHL with 15 regulation/overtime wins and are the highest scoring team in the League with 3.50 goals per game. They are third on the power play at 24.4 percent.
"I guess when you're looking at your own team and you're with them every single day you can poke holes in them," Cooper said. "I sit and watch games and I'm like, 'Geez, they look good.' I was watching the Rangers the other night and I was going, 'Holy cow, they have a heck of a hockey team and they keep shutting guys out.' Then you actually go back and say, 'Oh, we actually beat them twice.' You don't really ever think of it that way. I don't think you give your own team enough credit."
The Rangers have no choice but to give the Lightning credit. Tampa Bay beat New York 5-1 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 17 and 4-3 at Amalie Arena last week.
The Lightning's top line of Steven Stamkos, Alex Killorn and ex-Rangers captain Ryan Callahan has torched the Rangers for six goals and six assists in the two games. Callahan has four goals against his former team. Stamkos has two goals and four assists.
"Their top line has certainly dominated our group," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "This team is the highest scoring team in the League. You can't [beat them] with a B game. You can't do it with your B-plus game. You need your A game. You need to do a job on that top line. Their defensive group is one of the most skilled in the League. We need to do a solid job against them. They're in on every rush. They're in on every forecheck. Their gap is tremendous. It's going to take our best game."
Cooper said he expects the Rangers to play a different game than they have played against the Lightning so far. A big reason is defenseman Ryan McDonagh is back in the lineup after returning Nov. 28 from a separated shoulder; the injury kept him out of the previous two games between the teams.
In his first game back after missing 11, McDonagh had one assist in 22:12 of ice time as the Rangers beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0. He had another assist in 24:46 of ice time against Philadelphia on Saturday, when the Rangers won 5-2.
"The first time we were in here [MSG] they would probably say themselves it wasn't their best effort," Cooper said. "The last one in Tampa I think could have gone either way. They were playing a pretty good brand of hockey, plus they were playing without their big guy on their back end [McDonagh]. It's going to help them quite a bit."
But any advantage the Rangers might have had with McDonagh back in the lineup goes away because the Lightning have their big guy on the back end, Victor Hedman, back in their lineup. He missed the previous games against the Rangers because of a fractured finger.
Hedman missed 18 games before returning Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. He played 19:55 in a 4-1 victory.
"The first period I thought my timing was a little off; I missed so many games and you know that's going to be the biggest issue coming into the game," Hedman said. "Conditioning-wise I felt good, and as the game went on I felt my game got better and got back into it. It's only one game but there were a lot of positives."
The Rangers also will have to play the Lightning without defenseman Dan Boyle, their power-play quarterback, who will miss his second consecutive game with what is being characterized as flu-like symptoms.
Forward Tanner Glass is out of the lineup with the mumps, but Vigneault said everything they have been told about Boyle's condition is it's strictly the flu. Vigneault said Boyle went to the hospital for blood work Sunday, but the team did not have the results as of Monday morning.
The Rangers will have a pregame ceremony to honor forward Martin St. Louis for scoring his 1,000th career point. A second-period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in a 3-0 Rangers win Friday made St. Louis the 81st player in NHL history to reach the milestone. He scored 953 points as a member of the Lightning from 2000-14.
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Killorn - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov
Jonathan Drouin - Valtteri Filppula - Brett Connolly
Brenden Morrow - Brian Boyle - Cedric Paquette
Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr
Matthew Carle - Radko Gudas
Scratched: Mark Barberio, J.T. Brown, Vladislav Namestnikov
Martin St. Louis - Derek Stepan - Chris Kreider
Mats Zuccarello - Derick Brassard - Rick Nash
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Lee Stempniak
J.T. Miller - Dominic Moore - Jesper Fast
Marc Staal - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - John Moore
Matt Hunwick - Kevin Klein
Scratched: Anthony Duclair
Injured: Dan Boyle (flu), Tanner Glass (mumps)
Status report: Kreider is back in the Rangers' lineup after missing the game Saturday because of a death in the family. … Miller is playing his second consecutive game after being recalled from Hartford of the American Hockey League on Friday. He replaced Kreider in the lineup Saturday and had a goal and an assist.
Who's hot: Killorn brings a seven-game point-scoring streak into the game. He has eight points during the stretch. ... Callahan has three goals in the past two games and six points in the past three. ... Stamkos has three goals and six points in the past four games. ... Kucherov has scored in back to back games. … Nash had a four-game goal scoring streak snapped Saturday, but had an assist to extend his point-scoring streak to five games.