RANGERS vs. RED WINGS, 7 pm
Madison Square Garden
MSG Network, 98.7 FM
The Blueshirts get back to business on Friday night, making their return to Madison Square Garden to restart their season out of the nine-day All-Star break with the opener of an Original Six home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Those were nine days of precious rest, too, because now begins the sprint to the finish. There are 65 days remaining in the 2019-20 season; 34 of them are game days for the Blueshirts - more games (and more points available) than any other team in the National Hockey League.
"Our approach is to put ourselves in the best position to win a hockey game (Friday) night -- it really is that simple and we really are that shortsighted," David Quinn said. "Both teams have been off for nine days and we've got to get the rust off. So just play with the right intentions and have a good effort -- really that's the only thing you can really do, and through the course of it find your hands and your feet and your head, and hopefully they are all working together."
"Your legs and lungs have some catching up to do, but physically and mentally you feel refreshed," said Marc Staal. "The thing is, the other team is in the exact same boat we are."
One difference is that the Rangers will emerge from their break whole again, which is to say that Artemi Panarin will be back in the lineup after having to miss the pre-break finale against the Islanders, as well as last weekend's NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis. The Rangers' leading scorer was dealing with an upper-body injury and missed his first game all year on Jan. 22, as well as a chance to build on the 23 points he had in his previous 11 games.
Meanwhile, back with the Blueshirts is Igor Shesterkin, who went down to Hartford to get in game action during the break and was recalled on Thursday to take Friday's start against Detroit - the 24-year-old rookie's fourth in the NHL. He played on back-to-back nights for the Wolf Pack last weekend, allowing just three goals on 62 shots (.952) while picking up AHL wins No. 16 and 17, still one behind the American League leader despite Shesterkin spending most of January in the NHL.
"Yeah, not a surprise - he goes down there and stops pucks and wins hockey games. That's all he's been doing in the American Hockey League," Quinn said. "We send him down to play some more hockey and he goes down and continues to play well. I think that's certainly a testament to his mental makeup."
Shesterkin will be opposed by a staple of the Red Wings' visits to Broadway, Jimmy Howard, whose sterling career numbers against the team he grew up rooting for took a hit when he allowed four of the Rangers' five goals on Nov. 6 at the Garden. With Jonathan Bernier hurt but close to a return, Howard could potentially see both ends of the home-and-home, while Henrik Lundqvist is slated to go for the Blueshirts on Saturday in Detroit.
While a few Wings remain shelved coming out of the break, the Rangers bring a fully healthy contingent into the weekend, which includes Ryan Strome, who was fighting some symptoms of the flu during Thursday's first practice back but shouldn't be hampered Friday night. Strome, his linemate Panarin, and Tony DeAngelo each had a goal and an assist in these teams' first meeting this season, a 5-1 Ranger win on Nov. 6 at the Garden.
It so happens that was the last game the Rangers played without Ryan Lindgren in their lineup; the rookie will play his 36th straight game on Friday night, and coming out of the break will start with a new defense partner. Quinn said he was reluctant to break up the impressive freshman duo of Lindgren and Adam Fox, but wants to get at least a look at Lindgren on the left side of Jacob Trouba, with Fox skating on Brady Skjei's right. DeAngelo and Staal will stay together.
The Rangers have received more goals (38) and points (134) from defensemen than any team this season. "We like what we've done," Quinn said on Friday morning. "Can we be better?"
"The thing I've really liked about Lindgren that I think that has surprised all of us is his ability with the puck and his ability to get us out of our end," the Coach said, adding of the Lindgren-Trouba pair: "It's a gut feeling; we want to see how it looks. They both play with a little bit of a snarl, and maybe they can give us that more consistent shutdown D pairing that we're looking for. We'll see how it goes."
Not much has gone right for the Red Wings in 2019-20, a distant last in the League with 28 points through 51 games. Their Nov. 6 loss at the Garden capped a 13-game stretch in which they went 1-11-1; they come to Broadway on Friday night carrying their fourth losing streak of at least six games, but also the mental benefits an eight-day break - Detroit last played on Jan. 22 in a 4-2 loss in Minnesota.
The Wings had hoped that would be enough time for Andreas Athanasiou to return from his lower-body injury that has kept him out since before the New Year. Athanasiou was able to rejoin his teammates for practice on Thursday at the Garden, but after that Coach Jeff Blashill called it unlikely that he would play in either game of the home-and-home.
Athanasiou's six goals in 13 games against the Rangers are his career best against one opponent. Anthony Matha (upper body) and Mike Green (finger) also remain out for the Red Wings, who are led by 36 points from Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi.
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 93 Zibanejad - 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux - 72 Chytil - 24 Kakko
21 Howden - 14 McKegg - 42 Smith
55 Lindgren - 8 Trouba
76 Skjei - 23 Fox
18 Staal - 77 DeAngelo
59 Bertuzzi - 71 Larkin - 11 Zadina
29 Perlini - 51 Filppula - 14 Fabbri
43 Helm - 81 Nielsen - 73 Erne
48 G. Smith - 41 Glendening - 8 Abdelkader
22 Nemeth - 17 Hronek
83 Daley - 74 Bowey
52 Ericsson - 3 Biega
The Rangers have not played an opponent on consecutive days since facing Columbus on Oct. 9-10, 2015 - which they swept by a combined 9-4 score.
The Rangers are 5-2 in their last seven home games, and have scored 30 goals in that stretch.
Chris Kreider had 10 goals in the last 16 games before the break, during which he was a first-time NHL All-Star.
Adam Fox, third NHL rookie blueliners with 27 points, has 10 of those points in the last 10 games.
The Blueshirts are 4-2-1, with three straight wins, in the openers of back-to-backs.
Detroit began the season 3-1 and is 9-34-4 since. They have scored a League-low 108 goals and allowed a League-high 198.
The Red Wings have been outscored 29-10 during their six-game skid.
Dylan Larkin has points in 11 of his last 13 games, with 5-9--14 during the stretch.
Valterri Filppula will play in his 999th NHL game on Friday night, on track to play his 1,000th when the teams reconvene in Detroit on Saturday night.
Filip Zadina's two goals against the Wild on Jan. 22 made the 20-year-old the fourth-youngest player with multiple goals in a game this season. Kaapo Kakko is the youngest.
Jimmy Howard is 10-4-3/1.90/.944 in his career against the Rangers.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Artemi Panarin missed his first game as a Ranger just before the break, on Jan. 21, but returns to face a team he has played against 11 times, with points in 10 of them - eight goals and 18 points altogether in his career against the Red Wings. Panarin's 68 points rank fifth in the NHL.
Filip Zadina, the No. 6 overall Draft choice in 2018 and Filip Chytil's World Juniors teammate that year with the Czech Republic, spent the All-Star break with AHL Grand Rapids before being one of three players recalled on Thursday. The 20-year-old has eight goals in 26 games of his rookie season, including both of Detroit's goals in the pre-break loss in Minnesota - Zadina's first career multi-goal game, and his first game topping 20 minutes on ice.