RANGERS at PREDATORS, 2 p.m.
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
The last thing David Quinn wants is for his team to have to grow accustomed to playing without Mika Zibanejad. But the way the rest of his roster stepped up on Tuesday night in the No. 1 center's absence? A coach could get used to that.
Zibanejad did not skate on Friday and will be forced to miss his second straight game when the Rangers visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon. Quinn's Blueshirts will hit the ice seeking their third win in four games and a follow-up to an impressive 4-1 Garden win over Tampa Bay in which young players grabbed the reins.
"With our situation from a youth standpoint down the middle, you look at it and you think, 'Boy, we really do miss him,' and we really do," Quinn said on Friday. "But that being said, I really feel Fil Chytil had a second-line center type night. And I thought (Brett) Howden had a really good night. I thought Lias Andersson had his best night. So a lot of guys had really good nights.
"Now the question is, can they follow it up?"
Quinn will follow it up by leaving untouched a lineup that the Head Coach said "played a little ticked off the other night." So the Rangers' 20 will remain the same including in the nets, where Alexandar Georgiev (29 saves on 30 shots Tuesday) will take his fifth start of 2019-20 and the first back-to-back. Georgiev turned out the final 21 Tampa Bay shots he saw on Tuesday.
He was made a winner that night when Chytil, making his season debut, broke the tie late in the third period on a night when he looked, as Quinn said afterward, like "a whole different Fil." The way Chytil had been performing in Hartford to start the season (nine points in nine games for an 8-0-0-1 team), his call-up to the Rangers was bound to come sooner or later, but was accelerated by Zibanejad's absence creating a need for a center; Chytil said Friday that "I don't think about that."
"It's bad for us that Mika is out. He's one of our best players," the 20-year-old said when asked about the opportunity open to him. "But I'm here, I'm just playing, I'm doing what I can do to just help the team win games and keep this good atmosphere in the locker room."
After goals by Kaapo Kakko (18), Chytil (20), and Adam Fox (21), Ryan Strome completed the scoring with an empty-netter at the end of a strong 22:20 for the 26-year-old who figures to feature more prominently, including on power plays, for as long as Zibanejad is out. Strome's goal stretched his points streak to five games, matching a career best, with multiple points in each of the last three.
"What you see is the trajectory that you'd like to see in all our players," Quinn said of Strome's first 10 games. "I think he's gradually gotten better, I think he's been more thorough in all three zones. Obviously he's been productive offensively, but there are other aspects of his game he's added that have certainly made him and impactful player for us."
Strome, centering Artemi Panarin and Jesper Fast, had a goal and an assist on Tuesday while leading all Rangers with that 22:20 on ice, the third-highest total of his career.
"With Mika out there's some opportunity, and I just think I come to the rink and I don't try to really change who I am or what I do," the seven-year NHL veteran said. "That's the biggest thing I've learned: I think sometimes I've been a victim of kind of changing my play based on who I'm playing with, so this time around I just try to play my own game and do what I do.
"It's always fun to play big minutes and stuff like that, and when Mika's ready to be back we'll welcome him with open arms."
The Rangers will face a Western Conference opponent for the fifth time in their first 11 games, for the first time on the road. The Predators are completing a three-game homestand at Bridgestone Arena, where they were 6-1-2 in October. They have earned points in six straight games overall (4-0-2).
But the Preds had allowed just three goals during a four-game win streak before it came to a screeching halt on Thursday night, when they squandered a 4-1 lead entering the third period against Calgary, then a 5-4 lead with less than a minute left. They would up losing 6-5 on a goal with 1.4 seconds left in overtime.
That game saw the return of Filip Forsberg to the Western Conference's highest-scoring team, after the winger had missed the previous six games with a lower-body injury. Forsberg had five goals in the season's first six games before going out; he has since been surpassed by Connecticut native and Boston University product Nick Bonino, who leads the Predators with seven goals, four of them coming in the two games on this Nashville homestand.
The newest Predator, Matt Duchene, had nine points in his first five games with Nashville but just two assists in seven games since.
"It'll be a good test for us -- a veteran team in a tough building, and we've got a younger group," Strome said. "I think a lot of guys got something to prove right now, and two of our last three have been real good, so we've got to keep that consistency going and try to string a few together. It will be a great test for us."
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome --17 Fast
20 Kreider -- 72 Chytil -- 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux -- 21 Howden -- 24 Kakko
38 Haley -- 28 Andersson -- 42 Smith
25 Hajek -- 8 Trouba
76 Skjei -- 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
19 Jarnkrok -- 92 Johansen -- 33 Arvidsson
9 Forsberg -- 95 Duchene -- 64 Granlund
23 Grimaldi -- 13 Bonino -- 15 C. Smith
10 Sissons -- 8 Turris -- 51 Watson
59 Josi -- 4 Ellis
14 Ekholm -- 57 Fabbro
5 Hamhuis -- 52 Irwin
Since 2005-06, the Rangers lead the NHL with 111 wins in November (111-57-11). Saturday's game is their first of 15 in November 2019.
Tuesday's win over Tampa Bay was the first game in which four different Rangers age 21 or younger (Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren) had points since Dec. 19, 1984, against Winnipeg.
Brendan Lemieux, 23, had his first career two-goal night in his only career game against the Predators, this past Jan. 17 for Winnipeg in Nashville.
The Rangers have scored 14 goals over their last three games (4.67 per game). Nashville leads the NHL with 4.08 goals per game.
Nashville had outscored opponents 25-11 in third periods, and 26-11 in third periods and overtimes, until Calgary outscored them 5-1 from second intermission on in the Flames' 6-5 OT win on Thursday.
Calle Jarnkrok scored twice shorthanded against Calgary, just the second player in Predators history to do so (Scott Nichol, Jan. 19, 2008, at St. Louis).
Ryan Ellis' 14 points (2-12--14) are tied for second-most among NHL defensemen, with partner Roman Josi right behind him (5-8--13).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Artemi Panarin has six points in his last two games against Nashville. He has points in seven of the Rangers' 10 games this season, including the last three in a row.
Filip Forsberg, who on Thursday returned from a six-game absence (lower-body), has 2-3--5 in his last three games against the Rangers.