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Five things to watch as Rangers host Red Wings

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

The New York Rangers are trying to get used to life with a depleted defense corps. The Detroit Red Wings are again wondering where the goals have gone after a mini-breakout against the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings last week.

They're each in fourth place in their respective division, meaning they're surviving now. One win this early in the season has the potential to change that to thriving.

So, yes, there's a lot to watch in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET), but determining in advance where this game will be won is impossible because both teams are trying to overcome warts that are getting in the way of the consistency they're hoping to find.

Here are five things to watch in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game, the impossible to predict edition:

1. Red Wings response

Detroit coach Mike Babcock pulled no punches Tuesday after a 3-1 loss at the Ottawa Senators.

"I thought [the Senators] played good and I thought we were as bad as we could be," Babcock said. "I haven't seen us like that this year. You don't like to see many games like that. It's disappointing obviously.

"We got exactly what we deserved here [Tuesday night]."

The Red Wings response at Madison Square Garden will be interesting, especially considering it's their third game in four nights, fourth game in six nights and fifth in eight.

In spite of Babcock's thoughts, Detroit had chances to beat the Senators, but couldn't solve Craig Anderson after Henrik Zetterberg tied the game at 1-1 early in the third period. Tomas Jurco had the best chance off a 2-on-1 with Darren Helm, but Anderson made a sprawling, stacked-pad save.

The Red Wings have had problems finishing this season, save for a recent nine-goal outburst in wins against the Washington Capitals and Los Angeles Kings. They have scored two or fewer goals in eight of 12 games this season, but for the most part Babcock has been pleased with their overall effort.

He wasn't Tuesday. How they respond in a quick turnaround after a late-night flight to New York will be the most intriguing thing to watch on Detroit's side Wednesday.

2. Zuccarello likely to play

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault threw cold water on Derek Stepan's potential season debut by saying he'd prefer to play it safe and see him participate in a full-contact practice. Stepan participated in contact drills Wednesday morning, but he's not expected to play. The decision is easier with Mats Zuccarello, who missed the game Monday against the St. Louis Blues because of an undisclosed injury.

Zuccarello is expected to play after testing himself in the morning skate. Ryan Malone will come out of the lineup.

3. Watch the Rangers forwards

Even without Stepan and Zuccarello in the lineup Monday, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said New York's group of forwards was the fastest St. Louis has faced this season. That needs to come into play for the Rangers again on Wednesday.

It's easy to look at New York's banged up defense corps and assume the Red Wings will be able to control possession, but the Rangers forwards have done a good job of forechecking and backchecking to help their depleted blue line, which is missing Ryan McDonagh (shoulder separation), Dan Boyle (broken hand), and John Moore (suspension). Kevin Klein will play Wednesday after missing the game Monday with a left foot contusion.

TALE OF THE TAPE: RED WINGS-RANGERS
6-3-3 (4th, Atlantic) 2014-15 Record 5-4-2 (4th, Metropolitan)
2780-2331-815-110 All-Time Record 2611-2517-808-99
261-212-103-2 Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record 214-260-103-1
0-2-2 Streak vs. Opponent 4-0-0
0-2-1 @ New York Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent 3-0-0 vs. Red Wings
11 Stanley Cup Championships 4
48 Hockey Hall of Fame Members 50
Gordie Howe Most Famous Alumnus Mark Messier
9 Hart Trophy Winners 4
62 Postseason Appearances 56
Brendan Shanahan (1996-2006) Best Player in Common Brendan Shanahan (2006-08)

The Blues couldn't handle the forwards early Monday, and New York wound up with a 1-0 lead, a 15-4 edge in shots on goal and 27-13 advantage in total shot attempts after 20 minutes. St. Louis was able to play a more grinding game in the second period to turn the momentum before a back-and-forth and entertaining third period, overtime and shootout.

The speed of Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard, Anthony Duclair, Rick Nash, Dominic Moore and Martin St. Louis is contributing greatly to the Rangers' ability to overcome their significant losses on defense.

4. Datsyuk and Zetterberg

The Red Wings have struggled to score, but when they do Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg are usually involved. Detroit's star forwards are healthy and appear to have fresh legs despite all the miles they've put on them in the NHL.

Zetterberg scored his fourth goal of the season Tuesday. He has 15 points in 12 games, including 14 in his past nine. He has four multi-point games and has at least one point in eight of 12 games.

Datsyuk, who missed the first five games of the season because of a shoulder injury, has 10 points in seven games. He had at least a point in his first six games before being held off the scoresheet Tuesday in Ottawa.

What the Red Wings need is more consistent production from players such as Johan Franzen, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar.

Nyquist has a team-high seven goals, but he's gone without one in six of the past eight games after scoring in each of the first four. Tatar is getting quality chances now after scoring one goal in his first nine games. Franzen had an assist on Zetterberg's goal in Ottawa, his second game back after missing six games because of a groin injury.

5. Girardi's minutes

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi has played 67:48 of the 130 minutes the Rangers have played in the past two games. He has gone over 32 minutes in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He twice played over 30 minutes in back-to-back games in the 2011-12 season (Oct. 7-8, Jan. 31-Feb. 1).

Girardi played a regular-season career-high 34:50 on Saturday in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. He came back with 32:58 Monday in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Blues.

He played these minutes out of necessity since the Rangers were missing four of their top-six defenseman in McDonagh, Boyle, Klein and Moore. Marc Staal is also playing big minutes (56:06 in past two games), but Girardi still has him topped by more than 11 minutes.

Vigneault said he knows he needs to manage the minutes for his remaining top-six defensemen, but so far he's been able to do that with Staal, not Girardi. Provided the game is close, as most Rangers and Red Wings games have been this season, there's no reason to think Girardi won't play 30-plus minutes again.

Keep an eye on him in the third period if that's the case. The Rangers are playing their third game in five days. The minutes could start to wear on Girardi.

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