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GAME DAY: Blueshirts Duel Knights on Broadway

First of Two Meetings this Week; Rangers Seek Fifth Straight Home Win

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS, 7 pm
Madison Square Garden
MSG 2, 1050 AM

The Rangers return home to put a four-game Madison Square Garden winning streak, and a five-game points streak overall, on the line when the Vegas Golden Knights come to Broadway for the teams' first of two meetings in a seven-day span.

With Henrik Lundqvist in goal and Jesper Fast a gametime decision, the Rangers will close out one grueling stretch of schedule, playing for the eighth time in a 13-day span. The stretch included two sets of road back-to-backs, most recently their post-Thanksgiving Boston-New Jersey journey ending in Saturday's 4-0 blanking of the Devils.

The Blueshirts pulled away with two shorthanded goals in the third period of that game; prior to that, Adam Fox had given them the lead on a first-period power play when he swept home a pass across the zone from the stick of Kaapo Kakko.

The Rangers' 18-year-old rookie was moved up in the lineup to play with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome; David Quinn said on Saturday that Kakko played "his best game in a while," and after Monday's morning's pregame skate that he intends to keep the rookie exactly where he is.

"There was a pace to his game, there was a physicality to his game. He was playing with conviction," the Head Coach said. "A lot of things he hadn't been doing in the D zone he was doing. I thought he did a real good job getting to the walls when he needed to, and I thought in the offensive zone he was playing with a pace. Just his whole level of engagement and all three zones.

"I think just the fact that Kakko was on that line gave him a little bit more swagger, a little bit of a jolt. And Panarin's going to make you a better player no matter who I put on that line."

Strome knows the feeling, and will be happy to take another turn with that line, which played just over seven minutes together in Newark in a game that had relatively little 5-on-5.

"He was a horse in that first period down low, hitting guys, reverse checking. He looked engaged," Strome said of Kakko. "There were a couple of plays where I was just going to the middle and those guys are throwing seam passes behind me and I'm like, 'All right, you guys do your thing.' They're special players."

Mika Zibanejad, meanwhile, has three points in three games since returning from his month-long injury absence, two of them goals. He had a goal and an assist, both shorthanded, during a plus-3 afternoon on Saturday, playing just under 21 minutes less than a day after completing a 24-minute afternoon in Boston.

"The one thing that really jumps out at me is his conditioning -- this guy's got an iron lung," Quinn said. "To play the amount of minutes he played the other night after being out for so long, and his level of energy doesn't drop at all. The guy is in fabulous shape, and not many guys can skate with him in this league.

"Two great plays on the shorthanded goal, but there was a lot more to his game. I just thought he played a complete game."

Lundqvist is 3-1-1 in his last five starts, with a .929 save percentage. He starts for the seventh time in the Rangers' last nine games, with the goaltenders slated to split the back-to-back at week's end, Alexandar Georgiev on Thursday in Columbus and Lundqvist Friday at the Garden against Montreal.

The Golden Knights flew to New York after Friday's home game against Arizona, and took an off day in the City on Saturday. Monday's game is the first of three in four nights in the area, and they come to the Garden off of back-to-back wins, and seeking their first three-game winning streak after an up-and-down first two months.

They'll do so without Marc-Andre Fleury, whose father passed away last week at age 63; Fleury remains back in Quebec while the Knights called up Garrett Sparks on an emergency basis. Vegas expects Fleury could rejoin them during their trip East, but Malcolm Subban will start it off at the Garden.

It will be Subban's fourth consecutive start; he won a goaltending duel from Darcy Kuemper his last time out, stopping 35 of 36 shots, then two of three in a shootout to carry Vegas to a 2-1 win. Christian Dvorak's goal against him in the shootout was the first he had allowed in 19 career shootout attempts against.

Max Pacioretty leads the way for Vegas with 25 points, including his goal with three-tenths of a second on the clock tied last Wednesday's game in Nashville, allowing Paul Stastny to win it 1:52 into overtime. That win brought Vegas' road record to 6-6-1 entering the Garden, where the Rangers are 8-4-2 and seeking a fifth straight win.

"We're getting close to the point in the season where everybody's kind of figuring out what they have and where you are as a team," Quinn said. "And I think we've put ourselves in a good position here over the last 15, 16 games."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
48 Lemieux - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 24 Kakko
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 17 Fast*
38 Haley - 21 Howden - 42 Smith
*Did not skate Monday morning

76 Skjei - 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox
25 Hajek - 77 DeAngelo

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

GOLDEN KNIGHTS
81 Marchessault - 71 Karlsson - 19 R. Smith
67 Pacioretty - 26 Stastny - 61 Stone
28 Carrier - 9 Glass - 89 Tuch
92 Nosek - 10 Roy - 75 Reaves

3 McNabb - 88 Schmidt
14 Hague - 27 Theodore
15 Merrill - 5 Engelland

30 M. Subban
40 Sparks


NUMBERS GAME

Rangers leading scorer Artemi Panarin set a franchise record for points in the month of November with 23 (7-16--23), eclipsing Jean Ratelle's 22 in November 1971.

Jesper Fast's shorthanded goal on Saturday in Newark was the 46th regular-season goal of his NHL career, and the first on special teams.

Adam Fox ranks second in the League among rookie defensemen in goals (five) and third in points (14).

The Rangers are 3-0-1 over their last four games, during which time they have held a lead for 156:55, and trailed for 7:10.

The Rangers completed their November schedule with a 9-4-2 record; since 2005, they lead the NHL in November wins with a 120-61-13 record in the month.

Now in their third NHL season, the Golden Knights are 20-4-4 in their two Decembers.

Malcolm Subban had stopped the first 18 shootout attempts he faced in his NHL career until Christian Dvorak beat him with a wrist shot in Round 3 on Friday in Las Vegas. Alex Tuch won it for the Knights in the bottom of the round, improving Subban to 5-0 in shootouts in his career. 

Subban has stopped 66 of 70 shots in winning consecutive starts for the first time this season.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mika Zibanejad has points in all four of the Rangers' games against the Golden Knights, with four goals and two assists. The Rangers' leading scorer last season has 14 points in 12 games this year.

Paul Stastny has 15 points in 16 career games against the Rangers. Three of his eight goals this season have been game-winners - most on the Knights - including his OT strike last Wednesday in Nashville.

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