BLUE JACKETS (39-35-4) at RANGERS (50-21-7)
TV: TVA SPORTS, SNE, SNO, SNW, FS-O, MSG
NEW YORK -- Defenseman Keith Yandle is showing the New York Rangers why he should be an important player for them in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Yandle's comfort level with his new team and teammates has improved the past two weeks, and with it so has his production. He has one goal and seven assists in the past eight games after he had one point, a goal, in his first nine games following the trade that brought him to the Rangers from the Arizona Coyotes on March 1.
"It's one of those things that's different coming to a new team. You want to see where you're at with the team," Yandle said Monday morning from Madison Square Garden. "For me now, I feel that I'm here and we're getting down to the nitty gritty, and it's a good place to be right now."
The Rangers have won three in a row and are leading the Presidents' Trophy race. They can lock up first place in the NHL with wins Monday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SNE, SNO, SNW, FS-O, MSG) and Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, MSG, MSG+).
The Blue Jackets have won a club-record nine consecutive games, which also is the longest winning streak by any team in the NHL this season. Seven of their past nine wins have come against teams currently in position to make the playoffs.
"We're playing much better, but still playing in this building against this team will prove to be a good test," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "We've done some good things, found ways to win hockey games. There are still some areas that as a coach you want to see your team get better at, but this will be a great test, a team that is battling for the Presidents' Trophy. They play a fast game and they have depth at all positions."
Yandle added to the Rangers' depth on the back end, but it took him longer than he expected to make an impact. Being traded for the first time, it was a harder adjustment process than he thought it would be.
Off the ice he was trying to get to know all new teammates for the first time, which is no easy task.
"You always try to be yourself, but the first week or so you're just trying to get to know guys, go about your day," Yandle said. "It's tough to meet 23 new guys."
On the ice he was trying to adjust to a more open attacking system that Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wants to play.
Vigneault's style is to have the defensemen join the rush and move the puck quickly; in Arizona the Coyotes play more of a defensive game under coach Dave Tippett.
"Here we like to control our own fate, get up in the play, score goals and not spend too much time in our defensive zone," Yandle said. "It's about making good, clean passes to our forwards to help them get up the ice."
Yandle's start with the Rangers was discouraging. He was missing on what should have been clean, tape-to-tape passes. He was turning the puck over. He wasn't an offensive threat. He also wasn't surprised.
"I knew it was going to be a work in progress just trying to find my way," Yandle said. "Just being crisper and more assertive, I think that's when I'm at my best."
He's been that way of late. His passes are connecting. He's joining the rush. He's been a threat offensively.
It started with his three-assist game in a 7-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks on March 22. That was the first time the Rangers saw the difference Yandle's first-pass ability can make. He has five points in seven games since, including a goal and an assist in New York's 6-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
"Keith is a real smart player, real good with the puck, and I think every day he's gotten a little better at understanding when it's the opportunity, when it's a good percentage to jump in, to stay back, etc.," Vigneault said. "I think as we move forward here he's only going to get better."
Here are the projected lineups:
Boone Jenner - Ryan Johansen - Cam Atkinson
Artem Anisimov - Brandon Dubinsky - Nick Foligno
Scott Hartnell - Alexander Wennberg - Marko Dano
Matt Calvert - Mark Letestu - Jeremy Morin
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Fedor Tyutin - Dalton Prout
Kevin Connauton - Cody Goloubef
Scratched: Justin Falk, Corey Tropp, Jared Boll
Injured: David Clarkson (oblique), Jack Skille (shoulder), Rene Bourque (back), Ryan Murray (ankle)
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - J.T. Miller
Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Martin St. Louis
Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle - Matt Hunwick
Injured: Kevin Klein (arm)
Status report: Tyutin is a game-time decision because of an undisclosed injury, according to Richards. If he can't play, Falk will get into the lineup for the first time since March 7. … Richards needs one victory to tie Ken Hitchcock for the most coaching wins in Blue Jackets history with 125.
Who's hot: Foligno had a hat trick against the Penguins on Saturday and has points in three straight games. ... Johansen has four goals and seven assists during Columbus' win streak. ... Hartnell has 10 goals and three assists in the past 13 games. ... Atkinson has five goals and five assists during the Blue Jackets' win streak. … Brassard has three goals and two assists in his past four games. ... McDonagh has six assists during a four-game point scoring streak. ... Moore has three goals in the past two games. ... Nash has goals in back-to-back games. ... Kreider has points in three straight games.