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Rangers make a rare visit to Phoenix

by John Kreiser

RANGERS (17-8-4) at COYOTES (16-12-3)

TV: MSG (HD), FS-Arizona (HD)

LAST 10: New York 6-3-1; Phoenix 5-5-0

Season Series: The teams are meeting for the first of two times this season; the Coyotes visit Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10. This is just the second trip by the Ranger to Arena since October 2006 and only the third in the past 10 years.

Big Story: The Rangers' offense has gone cold this week, having generated just one goal in back-to-back losses to Dallas and St. Louis. A rare trip to the desert could help -- despite surrendering just two goals in Thursday's 4-2 win against Edmonton on Thursday, Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith has allowed 21 goals in his last six appearances.

Team Scope:

Rangers: To say that coach John Tortorella was unhappy with his team's performance in a 4-1 loss at St. Louis on Thursday would be putting it mildly. He benched Brad Richards after his No. 1 center was on the ice for a pair of early goals and said after the game that "It's about battles. They're a hard team and they beat us at that game. ... We just weren't good."

For the Rangers, who pride themselves on outworking opponents, it means rededicating themselves to the kind of effort they got in wins against Buffalo and Florida last weekend.

"We just gotta keep working," captain Ryan Callahan said. "You go through stretches where you're not scoring goals and you don't look at what's happening, you gotta realize why we're not getting opportunities ... I think it just comes down to a compete level and getting pucks to the net and being able to sacrifice yourself to get to that dirty area."

Coyotes: Phoenix coach Dave Tippett was as unhappy with his team after Wednesday's 4-1 loss in Anaheim as Tortorella was after his team's showing in St. Louis. He benched defenseman Derek Morris, shook up his lines and was rewarded with a solid performance in the win against Edmonton.

"Right through our lineup we had a strong presence, we were engaged in the game and if a mistake happened, we overcame it," Tippett said. "We did a lot of good things, and we were rewarded on the scoresheet for it."

Who's Hot: Coyotes center Ray Whitney has three assists in his last two games. Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored a goal Thursday and leads all Coyotes defensemen with six. He has 11 points in 31 games, matching his total for all of last season.

Injury Report: Rangers defenseman Marc Staal (concussion) has yet to play this season, and another defenseman, Michael Sauer, is also out with one. Forward Michael Rupp (knee) could return tonight, but Wojtek Wolski (groin) is skating but not yet ready to play. … The Coyotes are still without defenseman Rostislav Klesla (lower body).

Stat Pack: The Rangers failed to earn a power play in St. Louis, and the combined totals of two penalty minutes and one power play were season lows in the League. … Phoenix is 14-1-3 when scoring first, but just 2-11-0 when the opponent gets the first goal.

Puck Drop: Rupp could get back into the lineup on Saturday, but there's no word whether Tortorella will make a change that would give Sean Avery a sweater. Avery has been a healthy scratch for the losses to Dallas and St. Louis.

"It's definitely more frustrating," Avery told the New York Post after practice Friday at Scottrade Center before the flight to Phoenix. "I know I can help."

Tortorella wasn't saying what changes he might make.

"I've got a lot of players out that I have to consider, not just Sean," he said, refusing to single out Avery. "I'm pleased with how all the guys are working."

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