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GAME DAY: Rangers Home For Struggling Red Wings

Henrik vs. Howard; Kakko Looking For More

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. RED WINGS, 8 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
NBCSN, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
When two young teams square off at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, it will be the youngest player out there looking to build upon his best game yet.

Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers' 18-year-old rookie winger, will play game number 13 of his NHL career; game number 12, two nights earlier, was his first multi-point game in the League and made him just the third Ranger in franchise history to post multiple points in a game at age 18.

Kakko has scored twice in the last three games, and all three of his goals have come on Garden ice. He will be back on Broadway in Wednesday's Original Six match, when Henrik Lundqvist leads the Rangers out against a Red Wings team that has struggled enormously, with just one win in its last 12 games.

Kakko scored the opening goal in Monday's game against the Senators off a terrific one-touch pass from Adam Fox, then worked a seam pass on a power play over to Artemi Panarin for a second-period goal. But it was more than the points that jumped out to his Head Coach.

"He's playing with a lot more swagger right now," David Quinn said after his Rangers held their morning skate on Wednesday. "I think there's much more of a pace to his game. He's getting into battles as opposed to being around them. And usually when you've got that type of talent, when you do those things you're going to be productive offensively.

"I never worry about him offensively; we need to focus on what he's doing shift in and shift out and what his approach is within each shift, and when he approaches it that way he's going to be productive offensively because he's got the talent that he has."

Like the Red Wings, the Rangers will be looking for a bounceback performance, but unlike the Red Wings, it is only one game they are looking to bounce back from. The Blueshirts well understand that Monday's loss to Ottawa offered a tale of two teams, with their dominant first 11 minutes looking like a continuation of their recent wins until, in Quinn's words, "it was like a switch went off."

"We have to take our punches there and grow from it," said Ryan Strome. "I think the biggest message today is that good teams don't let it happen twice. You're going to lose games, but you can't lose them in the fashion we did where we play so good at the beginning but have two teams. That's going to come from learning, that's going to come from leadership. I don't have a doubt in my mind that we will have a better effort tonight and that we'll be ready to go."

Part of what they'll go with will be one change on defense and one up front. Marc Staal will re-enter the lineup after making way the past three games, while Greg McKegg will check back in for his sixth game this season, centering the fourth line in place of Lias Andersson. Ryan Lindgren, who played in three straight games since his call-up from Hartford, will be the extra defenseman.

"I don't feel great about sitting Lindgren. I think he's done some good things," Quinn said. "But I wanted to get Staalsie back in. He deserves to get back in. Looking at the rest of the D corps, I just felt that that was the move we were going to make."

Mika Zibanejad will not get back in quite yet, set to miss his fourth straight game with an upper-body injury, and expected to miss a fifth straight tomorrow night when the Rangers visit Carolina to complete their second back-to-back this season, and their first of three this month. Zibanejad skated with his teammates on Wednesday morning, Quinn calling it "another step forward" for his No. 1 center, who remained in a red no-contact jersey.

Lundqvist will take his seventh start this season and his first since Oct. 27, and bring in his career .936 save percentage against Detroit, his best against any NHL opponent and anybody's best in League history against the Red Wings. But his counterpart, Jimmy Howard, takes in a .948 save percentage against the team he grew up rooting for, also his best against any team.

Howard, though, is just 2-7 this season with a 3.96/.889 line as the Red Wings have struggled all over the ice, particularly in their own end. After a 3-1 start to the season, the Red Wings have gone 1-10-1 in their last 12, including the three-game skid they bring into the Garden during which they have been outscored 17-4.

Detroit's defensive struggles have only been compounded by an undisclosed injury to Trevor Daley and an illness to Mike Green that should keep them out of tonight's game. On Tuesday the Wings placed Daley on injured reserve and called up ex-Ranger draft pick Dylan McIlrath from Grand Rapids.

But the Rangers need no reminders that the Red Wings still possess weapons, starting at the top of their lineup with players like center Dylan Larkin and his line, and speedy winger Andreas Athanasiou, who scored four times in three games against the Rangers a season ago.

"Our mentality, our identity for our team should be the same going in every night; it shouldn't matter who we're playing," Brett Howden said. "What's going to with them isn't going to change anything for us tonight." 


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 24 Kakko
38 Haley - 14 McKegg - 42 Smith

25 Hajek - 8 Trouba
76 Skjei - 77 DeAngelo
18 Staal - 23 Fox

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgeiv

RED WINGS
59 Bertuzzi - 71 Larkin - 39 Mantha
72 Athanasiou - 51 Filppula - 73 Erne
67 Hirose - 81 Nielsen - 29 Perlini
8 Abdelkader - 61 de la Rose - 43 Helm

22 Nemeth - 17 Hronek
2 Hicketts - 74 Bowey
21 Cholowski - 20 McIlrath

35 Howard
45 Bernier


NUMBERS GAME

Henrik Lundqvist and Jimmy Howard have opposed each other 11 times; the combined score of those 11 games is 19-19, excluding shootouts. At least one of the two has been among the game's Three Stars in 10 of them. In six of the games, both have been among the Three Stars.

In his last 14 games facing Detroit, Lundqvist is 7-2-5 with a 1.52 GAA and .950 save percentage. Four of those seven wins have been shutouts.

Howard, a Ranger fan growing up who wears No. 35 for Mike Richter, is 10-3-3 in his career against them, with a 1.88 GAA and .948 save percentage.

Detroit's top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have combined for 42 points this season; those three players have scored 19 of Detroit's 34 goals.

The Red Wings have scored 2.13 goals per game (31st in the NHL), and allowed 3.94 per game (30th). In losing 11 of their last 12 they have been outscored 52-20.

Valtteri Filppula will skate in his 965th NHL game and his 500th as a Red Wing. His assist on Monday against Nashville was his 500th NHL point.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Artemi Panarin brings a five-game points streak into Wednesday night, and has eight points (3-5--8) in his last four games against Detroit.

Andreas Athanasiou scored his first goal of the season on the Wings' first shot against Nashville on Monday. He scored four times in three games against the Rangers in 2018-19.

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