RANGERS at BLUES, 8 p.m.
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
After the kind of night Tony DeAngelo had on Thursday, he was expecting that a few old friends might be reaching out. Turns out it was more than a few.
"Everybody," DeAngelo said. "Really, everybody. Friends and family, and friends of family, my cousins -- it was pretty cool. I had like 300-something texts. Some old teammates, too -- guys I haven't spoken to in a while, guys I played my first year of junior with. All that stuff, that was really cool."
Unlike some of those texts, DeAngelo's performance did not come out of the blue: Having been in the top 10 in scoring among NHL defensemen throughout the first half of the season, his hat trick and five-point night in Thursday's win over New Jersey - and the seven points he has in his last two games - vaulted him into the top five, with 36 points through 43 games.
One point behind him, at No. 6? After DeAngelo comes Pietrangelo, as in Alex Pietrangelo, the captain of a St. Louis Blues team that has built up a comfortable lead atop the Western Conference standings on the strength of seven consecutive home-ice wins.
The Rangers will look to put a stop to their run on Saturday night, and become the first team since Dec. 7 to come out of St. Louis with a win, when they meet the defending Stanley Cup champions for the first time in 2019-20.
The Blueshirts swept last season's regular-season series from St. Louis, the only team in the League against whom the Blues did not earn a single point during their championship year. Much of that was owed to superb Ranger goaltending, including Henrik Lundqvist twirling a New Year's Eve gem at the Enterprise Center - 39 saves in a 2-1 Blueshirts victory.
Lundqvist will get another crack at the Blues on Saturday, taking the Rangers' nets in his 882nd career NHL game - moving him even with John Vanbiesbrouck for ninth place among goaltenders in NHL history.
Who would make up the defense corps in front of him remained partially up in the air when the Blueshirts broke practice on Friday. But Ryan Lindgren -- who left Thursday's game with a lower-body injury after blocking a P.K. Subban drive, then stayed off the ice in Westchester Friday - took part in an optional morning skate on Saturday at Enterprise Center and said he would be good to go against the Blues.
After an upper-body injury on Tuesday, then the lower-body injury on Thursday, Lindgren gave full credit to the Rangers' trainers for getting him ready for Saturday, which at first he didn't think he would be. "That kind of comes with it: When you play physical, you're going to get some bumps and bruises. I'm used to it at this point," the rookie blueliner said. "Looking to make it through the full game tonight."
The Rangers brought seven defensemen on the trip: Libor Hajek skated both on Friday and Saturday, and by all accounts is ready to return from a knee injury that has kept him out since Dec. 5 - though after five weeks out, Quinn hasn't ruled out the option of giving Hajek the chance to ramp back up in Hartford.
Regardless of who suits up, Quinn would like it if Lundqvist could see a little less workload than Igor Shesterkin did in picking up his second NHL win on Thursday against New Jersey - though while the Devils finished that game with 49 shots, that figure didn't bother the Head Coach, exactly.
"I can't stand the number, but it may be a little bit misleading - it didn't feel that way," Quinn said. "We definitely had a different mindset going into the game than we did in the previous two, that was obvious - we gave up seven odd-man rushes and chances, where we gave up three combined in the previous two (games). That's usually an indication of what you're trying to do offensively, how you're a little bit more high-risk with the puck."
"They had some good chances, and Igor made some real nice saves," DeAngelo said, "but a lot of those shots were off the rush where we were almost giving them the shot rather than trying to let them make a play. A couple rushes where they're coming off the wall, and any one of our goaltenders is going to make that save 999 times out of a thousand."
Save for one big trade, the Blues' personnel went largely untouched since carrying the Cup out of Boston in the seventh game of last June's Final. In fact, outside of the Sept. 24 acquisition of defenseman Justin Faulk from Carolina, perhaps the Blues' last major move came just a few days after the Rangers' last visit to St. Louis, and their win on Dec. 31: Six days later the Blues handed minor-league call-up Jordan Binnington his first NHL start, and the rest is Blues history.
But St. Louis has climbed to the top of the Western Conference standings without Vladimir Tarasenko, who underwent shoulder surgery at the end of October; the hope in St. Louis is for last year's leading goal-scorer to be ready in time for the Playoffs.
Back when he had the operation, GM Doug Armstrong predicted his team would compensate with "strength in numbers," and the Blues currently have four players among the top 50 in NHL scoring, plus one of the stingiest team at the other end: they allow 2.64 goals per game, fifth-fewest in the League.
David Perron leads the way in scoring with 45 points in what is shaping up as a career season for the 31-year-old. But the line of Alex Steen, Robert Thomas and Tyler Bozak led the way in Thursday night's 5-1 rout of the Sabres, each scoring and finishing with three points as St. Louis stretched the home streak to seven. Steen scored twice, his first two goals of the season in his 29th game.
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
21 Howden - 72 Chytil - 24 Kakko
42 Smith - 14 McKegg - 29 Fogarty
76 Skjei - 8 Trouba
18 Staal - 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox
17 Schwartz - 10 B. Schenn - 70 Sundqvist
12 Sanford - 90 O'Reilly - 57 Perron
20 Steen - 18 Thomas - 21 Bozak
28 MacEachern - 61 de la Rose - 49 Barbashev
29 Dunn - 27 Pietrangelo
19 Bouwmeester - 72 Faulk
77 Mikkola - 41 Bortuzzo
Henrik Lundqvist will play in his 882nd NHL game, tying John Vanbiesbrouck for ninth-most by a goaltender in NHL history. After Thursday, he will need just four more games to catch Tony Esposito in eighth.
Only seven of those 882 games have come in St. Louis, but in those seven, Lundqvist has a 2.08 GAA and .936 save percentage.
The Rangers have scored five or more goals in six of their last nine games. Since Dec. 22, when they beat Anaheim 5-1 at the Garden, only two teams - the Lightning (42) and the Maple Leafs (37) - have scored more goals than the Rangers' 36.
Artemi Panarin - who will return to St. Louis in two weeks' time as an NHL All-Star - has 61 points, the most by any player in his first 43 games as a Ranger, edging out Wayne Gretzky's 59 in 1996-97.
The Blues have outscored opponents 27-12 during their seven-game home winning streak.
Jordan Binnington sits in a three-way tie for the League lead in wins, alongside Toronto's Frederik Andersen and Tampa's Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Blues' 26-year-old netminder is 8-2 in his last 10 starts, but his save percentage is just .898.
Only Winnipeg (five) has more players in among the top 50 in League scoring than St. Louis' four (David Perron, Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chris Kreider's goal and assist on Thursday were points No. 299 and 300 of his NHL career. He has scored in back-to-back games and has points in three straight, with 16 points in the last 15 games. Kreider's 13 points in 11 career games against the Blues are his most against any Western Conference team.
David Perron leads the Blues scoring with 45 points (19-26--45), far and away a career-best pace for the 31-year-old now in his third stint in St. Louis. He has goals in three straight games; one more would make it back-to-back 20-goal seasons in years 12 and 13 of his NHL career.