RANGERS at GOLDEN KNIGHTS, 7 p.m.
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
Time for the Rangers to hit the road.
The Blueshirts are heading off-off Broadway this week, shipping out West for one of two four-game journeys this month, their two longest trips of the 2019-20 season. Around New Year's it'll be Western Canada; this time, it's the desert and the California coast, all four games against Pacific Division teams -- against whom the Rangers have compiled a 47-21-10 record over the last six seasons.
This season, nine of the Rangers' next 13 games will be played away from Madison Square Garden. All of it begins on Sunday evening on the Las Vegas Strip, where the Blueshirts will clash with the Vegas Golden Knights for the second time in a seven-day span -- the only game on this trip against an opponent currently in playoff position in the Western Conference.
The two games with the Knights -- 4-0-1 in their last five -- begin and end the season series between the teams, and Sunday's match could feature the NHL's active leaders in all-time wins in Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury, who is back with the Golden Knights after taking time away mourning the death of his father.
With four games on the trip -- none on back-to-back days - it's a decent bet that David Quinn will elect to split his goaltenders, and with six defensemen making the trip the blue-line alignment remains straightforward. But David Quinn spoke after Friday's Garden match about how he is still kicking the tires on some of his forward combinations.
Mika Zibanejad has, almost quietly, scored four points in the four games since his return from a monthlong upper-body injury, and is better than a point per game for the season. He and Artemi Panarin had begun the season as linemates, then finished Friday's game together alongside a new winger, Kaapo Kakko, on their right. It was only one part of Quinn "just trying to light a spark under us a little bit," he said. "With Mika out as long as he was, I'm just trying to find the right combinations."
On Friday at the Garden the Rangers were held to one goal in a game for just the third time this season, but that was the tenor of the night against the Montreal Canadiens in a defensive battle between "two teams that looked like they played last night," in Quinn's words after the game. Alexandar Georgiev continued his sharp stretch with 31 saves on the second night of back-to-back starts and now has stopped 131 of the last 136 shots he has seen (.963).
Lundqvist, meanwhile, had a personal three-game points streak going until Monday's Garden match with the Golden Knights, in which the Rangers found themselves down a pair less than four minutes in and after which Quinn said, "We just weren't ready to play at that pace to start."
It was Vegas' Alex Tuch who jumped them at the start, scoring the opening goal 1:34 in, then drawing the penalty he would cash in himself at 3:50. Tuch went on to complete a torrid road trip through the New York City area, with three assists on Tuesday in a victory in Newark, then scoring Vegas' first goal in an overtime loss at Nassau Coliseum Thursday. Three of Tuch's five goals this season came on the three-game New York trip.
Malcolm Subban started all three on the trip and has taken the last six starts overall for the Golden Knights, who welcomed back what Vegas Coach Gerard Gallant called "the heartbeat of our crew" when Fleury rejoined them at their morning skate on Thursday on Long Island. Fleury served as Subban's backup against the Islanders; he last played on Nov. 23.
Subban held the fort very nicely the past two weeks: P.K.'s 25-year-old kid brother allowed just 14 goals in his six starts. After losing the first one in Dallas on Nov. 25, he went 4-0-1 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.
The Knights, who acquired Chandler Stephenson from Washington on Monday, practiced on Saturday with two full days at home ahead of the Rangers' visit. The Blueshirts flew in Saturday, bringing six healthy defensemen on the trip after Libor Hajek suffered a sprained knee early in Thursday's game in Columbus; he is expected to miss three-to-four weeks. In his place on Friday, Marc Staal returned from an ankle injury that had kept him out a month and "Staalsie was solid," Quinn said afterward. "I liked his game."
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
48 Lemieux -- 93 Zibanejad -- 24 Kakko
20 Kreider -- 72 Chytil -- 89 Buchnevich
14 McKegg -- 21 Howden -- 42 B. Smith
76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo
81 Marchessault -- 71 Karlsson -- 19 R. Smith
67 Pacioretty -- 26 Stastny -- 61 Stone
20 Stephenson -- 9 Glass -- 89 Tuch
28 Carrier -- 92 Nosek -- 75 Reaves
3 McNabb -- 88 Schmidt
14 Hague -- 27 Theodore
15 Merrill -- 5 Engelland
The Rangers have points in four straight road games (3-0-1) and have held a two-goal lead in all but the first, their 6-5 comeback win from 4-0 down in Montreal.
Dating to Oct. 24, the Rangers are 8-1 following a loss.
The Blueshirts are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games; the Knights are 6-2-2 in their last 10.
Henrik Lundqvist is fifth on the all-time NHL wins list with 456, all as Ranger, recently passing Curtis Joseph at 454. Next, in seventh, comes Marc-Andre Fleury with 450, including 75 as a Golden Knight and the remainder as a Penguin. Among active players, Lundqvist and Fleury are Nos. 1 and 2.
The Rangers won their first 12 games of the season when holding their opponent to two goals or fewer, until Friday's 2-1 loss to Montreal.
Brendan Lemieux will play his 100th NHL game.
Sunday's match is the sixth all-time meeting between the Rangers and Golden Knights. Lundqvist made 30 saves to win the first one, on Oct. 31, 2017, when the Rangers scored five times on Maxime Lagace, with a goal and two assists from Mika Zibanejad.
Vegas' penalty kill ranks fourth in the League at 85.1 percent; its power play is seventh, at 22.9 percent. They have been outscored 65-55 at 5-on-5.
The Rangers and Golden Knights are two of 10 teams in the NHL who have not been shut out this season. Vegas has gone 52 straight games scoring at least one goal, the League's third-longest streak behind Boston (82) and Florida (53). The Blueshirts have gone 44 straight with at least a goal.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Mika Zibanejad has four points and a plus-5 in his four games since returning from a month out with an upper-body injury. The Rangers have played five games against the Golden Knights and Zibanejad has points in all of them, four goals and three assists overall.
Jonathan Marchessault's natural hat trick on Tuesday in New Jersey came in a span of 8:35 of the third period and was the difference in a 4-3 win, Vegas' fourth straight at the time. Marchessault has points in four straight (4-2--6). His next goal will be his 100th in the NHL -- he has scored 61 of them in 190 games for Vegas, 38 in 124 games for three other teams.