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At the Rink: Predators at Rangers

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- If the Nashville Predators are going to break out of their scoring slump Monday, they'll have to do it against the team giving up the fewest goals in the National Hockey League.

The Predators (11-5-3) enter Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rangers (7 p.m. ET; SN1, SNE, SNO, SNP, FS-TN, MSG+) without a goal in their past 153:47, including back-to-back 4-0 losses at the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild in the first two games of their current five-game road trip. They have 72 shots on goal since their last goal.

The Rangers (15-3-2) lead the NHL in goals-against per game at 1.85. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist leads the League with a 1.85 goals-against average and .943 save percentage. New York also is 10th in blocked shots with 297.

"They block a lot of shots and defend well. But I think part of them defending is they play so well offensively," Predators captain Shea Weber said. "They have so much speed and skill that they're able to keep teams on their heels. We have to make sure we're attacking just as much. We have to play with the puck."

Playing with the puck is key against the Rangers because it's maybe the only way to slow them down. They are one of the faster teams in terms of going from defense to offense.

But even if the Predators are able to slow the Rangers, Weber said it only will matter if they can create second and third chances in the offensive zone off shots.

He felt the Predators did that well against the Blue Jackets with 39 shots on goal and 84 shot attempts. But against the Wild they were limited to 23 shots on goal and 44 shot attempts.

In fairness, Predators coach Peter Laviolette said it's always difficult to generate quality and quantity in scoring chances when playing the Wild because of how effective they are in taking away the middle of the ice.

"There's never any chances in Minnesota," Laviolette said. "You've got to like pick up the seats, look under the seats, check the corners. There's just not a lot of chances and opportunities."

The Rangers will give up puck possession time and shots on goal, even quality scoring chances, because of how they play. They always try to play fast, but sometimes that leads to turnovers.

That is what makes Lundqvist so important to them. He might be the Vezina Trophy favorite at this point.

"We've obviously benefitted some having some great goaltending. But you look at all the teams that are winning right now and they're getting great goaltending," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "You can't win in the League without it."

The Predators, however, feel they can get around it.

They spent time Sunday and Monday morning watching videos of what they did against the Blue Jackets and the Wild. Weber's takeaway was they didn't make seeing the puck difficult enough for either Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky or Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Do that against Lundqvist and Weber thinks the Predators can break out of their scoring slump.

"We've got to get hungrier," he said.

Here are the projected lineups:


Filip Forsberg - Mike Ribeiro - James Neal

Colin Wilson - Mike Fisher - Craig Smith

Gabriel Bourque - Calle Jarnkrok - Cody Hodgson

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Austin Watson

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Barret Jackman - Seth Jones

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Injured: None

Scratched: Anthony Bitetto, Miikka Salomaki, Victor Bartley


Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Kevin Hayes

J.T. Miller - Oscar Lindberg - Jesper Fast

Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll - Viktor Stalberg

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Antti Raanta

Injured: None

Scratched: Dylan McIlrath, Emerson Etem

Status report: Hayes will start at right wing on the second line after finishing the game Saturday against the Florida Panthers in that position. Hayes primarily has been New York's third-line center this season, but Vigneault said Hayes needs to assert himself more and is hoping the move to the wing will give him the freedom to do that. "I'd like him to be a little bit more involved in all areas; give and go, move the puck more, going to the hard areas, using that size and that strength that he has," Vigneault said. Lindberg will move to the middle of the third line in place of Hayes. Miller, who was the second-line right wing, moves to the third line. He also goes to the left side to accommodate Fast, a right wing who moves up from the fourth line, where Stalberg will play. "Trying to find combinations for tonight against a team that is probably one of the best as far as their transition game with their highly skilled defensive group," Vigneault said.

Who's hot: The Rangers' top line of Nash, Zuccarello and Brassard has combined for 13 goals and 20 assists in the past eight games. They combined for seven points against the Panthers, with Nash getting a hat trick and Zuccarello one goal and two assists.


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