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GAME DAY: Rangers Preaching Patience vs. Kings

Shesterkin Seeks Fifth Win in Six Starts as Blueshirts Close Out Homestand

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. KINGS, 6 p.m.
Madison Square Garden
MSG+, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
Mika Zibanejad described Friday's opponent, the Buffalo Sabres, as a team that "sat back the whole game." The Rangers understand they may encounter something similar from Sunday's opponent, too.

That is not guesswork; that expectation comes from experience, given the Los Angeles team the Rangers saw two months ago at Staples Center, when the Kings broke a scoreless tie just before the first period ended and were able to choke the life out what remained of the game.

L.A. now arrives for the return match on Broadway having won just once in their last 10 games.

"When we get into trouble is when we play teams that do what Buffalo did and what L.A.'s going to do and we think that we have to try harder to make more skilled plays and not be patient, and it's hurt us," David Quinn said. "It's hard to do the same thing over and over again; it can get a little bit boring, and we're not good at boring."

"It's a lesson learned in staying patient and staying with your game, and not giving mistakes to a team that's just kind of waiting for you to make mistakes," said Marc Staal. "When we're beating that system, we're skating, and we're supporting each other, talking -- all stuff that when we play with tempo and play with speed, those things become a lot easier. So we'll try to get back to that (Sunday) night."

Added Mika Zibanejad: "I think having just played Buffalo we kind of understand what type of team we're playing (Sunday). I am sure we're going to be ready."

Sunday's match will complete a four-game Garden homestand for the Rangers, who in spite of Friday's loss still have won seven of their last 11 on home ice, and have this number going for them too: They have 16 wins in their last 22 games immediately coming out of a loss.

The one they will look to bounce back from this time is Friday night's near-miss in which the Sabres scored once in each period to build a three-goal lead, then held on for dear life as the Rangers closed in on them in the final minutes. Zibanejad and Chris Kreider each scored for the second straight game, and each has scored four times in the last five games.

The line of Kreider, Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich have combined for 11 goals in those last five games; Kreider has points in all five.

But the standout Ranger of Friday's match was Kaapo Kakko, who as the game progressed worked his way up the lineup until he was among the top six in the third period, then one of the Rangers' six attackers as they pressed for the equalizer. Kakko has two assists in the last three games and will face the Kings for the second time in his career; in the Dec. 11 meeting, he put eight shots on Jonathan Quick's net -- the highest total of his rookie season -- during his 19:07 on ice, his fourth-highest total.

Kakko's fellow rookie Igor Shesterkin will see the Kings for the first time, getting his sixth NHL start after winning four out of the first five. All of them have come at Madison Square Garden, and Shesterkin has looked more and more at home in each one -- most recently his 27-save quieting of the Maple Leafs in Wednesday's 5-3 win. Shesterkin is one of just two goaltenders in Rangers history, along with Cam Talbot, to earn wins in four of his first five NHL starts with the club.

After facing a Leafs team that has scored the most goals in the NHL, Shesterkin will see a Kings team that has scored the second-fewest, averaging 2.43 per game. The Kings are 1-8-1 in their past 10 games, and with 43 points are on pace for a second straight finish at the bottom of the Western Conference.

On Saturday night they were shut out for the fifth time this season, a 3-0 loss to the Devils that drops their record on the road to 8-20-4. Earlier this season, the Kings matched a franchise record by dropping 11 consecutive away games.

L.A. already has been active in the trade market, on Wednesday sending goaltender Jack Campbell and forward Kyle Clifford to Toronto just as the Leafs were finishing up their loss at the Garden. They got back Trevor Moore and a pair of picks while also freeing a spot for former Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen -- a teammate of Jacob Trouba and Brady Skjei with the U.S. team at the 2017 World Championships -- to join the big club.

Todd McLellan chose to give Petersen his season debut against the Devils on Saturday night; Quick would be in line to face the Rangers for the 12th time in the regular season. He made 29 saves in L.A.'s Dec. 10 win over the Blueshirts.

Following Sunday's game, the Rangers head to Winnipeg for the start of a three-game road trip, and a stretch of 10 games that includes eight on the road.

"Going on the road for that many games, you want to make sure that you leave from here with a win and a good feeling, and some momentum that you hopefully continue on the road," Zibanejad said. "It's absolutely a big game (Sunday), and we really need to take care of business."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
20 Kreider -- 93 Zibanejad -- 89 Buchnevich
10 Panarin -- 16 Strome -- 17 Fast
33 Di Giuseppe -- 72 Chytil -- 24 Kakko
48 Lemieux -- 14 McKegg -- 21 Howden

76 Skjei -- 8 Trouba
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox
18 Staal -- 77 DeAngelo

31 Shesterkin
30 Lundqvist

KINGS
19 Iafallo -- 11 Kopitar -- 23 Brown
9 Kempe -- 77 Carter -- 73 Toffoli
12 Moore -- 46 Lizotte -- 51 Wagner
38 Grundstrom -- 10 Amadio -- 22 Lewis

6 Ryan -- 8 Doughty
27 Martinez -- 26 Walker
15 Hutton -- 3 Roy

32 Quick
40 Petersen


NUMBERS GAME

Brady Skjei will play his 300th NHL game, all as a Ranger.

Chris Kreider has four goals and seven points during his five-game points streak. His third-period goal on Friday gave him his fifth career 20-goal season. The Rangers are one of six NHL teams with three different players to hit the 20-goal mark this year (Kreider 20, Mika Zibanejad 22, Artemi Panarin 27).

Since Dec. 31, the Rangers have the League's top power play at 39 percent (16-for-41); the Kings are second at 34.4 percent (11-for-32). L.A. has allowed one shorthanded goal all season, fewest in the League.

The Blueshirts have been shorthanded just 12 times in the last seven games.

The Rangers have outshot visitors 191-122 in their last five games at the Garden.

The Kings have been outscored by 37 goals (110-73) in 32 road games this season.

Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with 17 goals, but just one in the last 11 games. The L.A. captain had his fifth career penalty shot on Saturday night in Newark; he was stopped by New Jersey's Mackenzie Blackwood and fell to a career 1-for-5 on penalty shots.

Trevor Moore will play at Madison Square Garden for the second time this week; he had two shots in 9:32 of ice for the Maple Leafs on Wednesday, after which he was part of a three-player trade with L.A.

Since the NHL began playing 3-on-3 overtime, the Kings lead the League with 45 wins and a .672 win percentage. They're 6-3 in overtime this season.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Mika Zibanejad has nine points in his last eight games against L.A. With 22 goals in 40 games this season, the center ranks eighth in the League in goals per game. He has scored in four of the Rangers' last five games. His next assist will be his 200th in the NHL.

Drew Doughty's streak of consecutive games played ended on Jan. 29 at 460, a Kings record -- but the former Norris Trophy winner still ranks third in the NHL playing 25:58 per game. Doughty is five points away from 500 in the League; 116 of his points are goals -- none of them against the Rangers, the only opponent he has never scored against.

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