The Rangers won for the tenth time in their last eleven contests Saturday night in Florida, but none of the coaches or players is expecting that a similar performance tonight at The Garden against the Nashville Predators will be good enough to win again.
A late-third period meltdown in which a 4-2 lead evaporated into a 4-4 tie that could have turned worse if not for Henrik Lundqvist's clutch save on Reilly Smith's penalty shot with 1:42 to play in regulation was not masked by the eventual 5-4 overtime victory, secured on the third goal of the game for Rick Nash. In fact, even that 4-2 lead could not hide the blemishes on this one, a game which saw Lundqvist face 43 shots.
The Blueshirts believe they dodged a bullet Saturday against the Panthers and will need to be much better tonight against a Predators team which enters play 11-5-3 on the season despite a pair of back to back shutout defeats coming into Monday's contest.
"We've got to get that one out of our system," said Viktor Stalberg, who scored a goal Saturday. "It wasn't a great performance by any means, though we still got the two points. Bad games are going to happen. It's how you bounce back and respond that matters."
Head coach Alain Vigneault will not make any lineup changes tonight, and Lundqvist will once again start in goal, but there are some tweaks to the forward line combinations.
Kevin Hayes will move up to play right wing on the second line centered by Derek Stepan with Chris Kreider on the left. J.T. Miller shifts from the right wing spot the third line, which will now be centered by Oscar Lindberg, with Stalberg on the other wing.
"(The moves are) a reflection of both (players)," Vigneault said of Hayes, who is pointless in his last three games, and Miller, who has one assist in his last four outings. "We're trying to show them confidence, but at the end of the day they've got to go out and contribute and play at both ends of the rink and play well and play consistently."
Both Hayes and Miller, a pair of former first round draft picks, have had bright moments so far this season. Hayes is fifth on the team with 12 points, and Miller has ten, so far. However the coaching staff is seeking more consistency from both.
"Those are players we have high expectations for, and we don't think those high expectations are over the top, but we expect more from them, and now we're trying to sort out the lines with them," stated Vigneault.
One line that is in no fear of being split up is the Rangers top line, consisting of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. Since being reunited, and not including two games Nash missed because of injury, that trio has totaled 13 goals and 33 points in eight games together. Zuccarello leads the way with 14 points in that span, Nash has ten, and Brassard nine.
That line will be counted on heavily again tonight against a talented and hungry Predators team.
"They have a great transition game and a highly-skilled defensive group, and they're obviously going to be very focused and motivated tonight, so we're going to have to be really good."