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GAME DAY: Rangers Set for Rubber Match With Sens

'Bad Taste' Lingers as Blueshirts Open Back-to-Back Up North

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS at SENATORS, 7:30 p.m.
Canadian Tire Centre
MSG Network, 98.7 FM

GAME DAY
The Rangers are putting Wednesday night's win over the Washington Capitals into their recipe book. At the same time, they are staying very mindful of the fact that their next opponent tends to introduce a volatile ingredient.

In just their 20th game of the season the Rangers will close out their 2019-20 season series with the surging Ottawa Senators on Friday night in the Canadian capital, after the teams split the first two. When last they met, just 18 days ago, the Sens extracted a measure of retribution for the teams' first meeting, in Game 2 of the season, in which Mika Zibanejad dropped his third career hat trick on his former team on their home ice. Now the Rangers are out for their own slice of payback after their Nov. 4 loss at the Garden, a game in which one central theme was Brady Tkachuk's success in sidetracking the Blueshirts.

"That's pretty fresh," Brendan Smith said of the Garden loss. "There's still a bad taste in our mouth from that one. So we want to come back and make sure that we don't allow that to happen again. That's still bitter."

"I hope it's as fresh in (the players') minds as it is in ours as a coaching staff," David Quinn said.

Friday's game will feature two of the hottest scorers in the NHL, in the Rangers' Artemi Panarin and Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau. But despite a heartening sight at the Rangers' practice rink on Thursday, they will make their return to Canadian Tire Centre without Zibanejad, whose upper-body injury will keep him out of games No. 11 and 12 in a row by the time the Blueshirts complete this Canadian back-to-back, with games in Ottawa on Friday (Henrik Lundqvist will start) and Montreal on Saturday (Alexandar Georgiev will go).

After Wednesday's game against Washington, the Rangers have now played more games this season without Zibanejad than with him. But the brighter side of that coin was the sight of Zibanejad skating with his teammates during Thursday's optional practice wearing blue, not the red no-contact shirt.

While the missed games have mounted, so too have Panarin's numbers -- his point streak now stands at a career-high 12 games. He scored the first two goals of Wednesday's game -- both set up by Kaapo Kakko in his return to the lineup -- to make it multiple points in six of the last seven games. But Wednesday's win was driven by far more than one or two players, as the Rangers stood up for a physical game with the NHL leaders and became the first team this season to hold the Caps under two goals.

"I love the way we responded -- I thought it was right from the get-go," Quinn said on Thursday. "There was a consistency to what we were doing. I didn't think there was a big drop-off throughout the game, whether it was being physical, or making good reads offensively or defensively."

"We're a young team and they've got some big bodies, but I don't think anyone backed down from the physicality," said Adam Fox. "We didn't let them take it to us. You know they're going to have their spurts and their moments of momentum, but we handled it well."

Kakko said on Thursday that he is still getting past the final remnants of the flu bug that kept him out of two games in Florida last week; the 18-year-old said he felt "not the best" on Wednesday night, "but better than what I thought before the game."

Kakko's "not the best" resulted in a pair of power-play assists and a slew of even-strength scoring chances from his line with Brett Howden (goal) and Brendan Lemieux (assist), and now seven points in the rookie's last six games.

Lundqvist will take his third straight start, following 30 saves on 31 Washington shots for career win No. 454, tying Curtis Joseph for fifth-most all-time. Afterward he said of the complete team effort: "This is video we can watch and see how we can have success."

"We have to understand that that can't happen just because we're playing the Washington Capitals -- that's how we have to play," Quinn said on Thursday. "A heightened alertness defensively, and playing with a purpose and intention has to happen regardless of the opponent."

That very much includes the surprising Sens, who have won six of their last eight games, and nine out of 14 after getting out of the gate 1-6-1. Their latest was a 2-1 win in Montreal on Wednesday behind 35 saves from Craig Anderson and Tkachuk's winner 38 seconds into overtime.

Tkachuk has scored the game-winner in back-to-back games, and has goals in both games against the Blueshirts this season. Anderson has the career numbers against the Rangers but Anders Nilsson has the only win against them this season.

It was Pageau who scored the Senators' regulation goal in Montreal to level the game in the second period, his 10th goal in the last 10 games, tied with Connor McDavid for the League lead in the month of November. Ex-Ranger Vlad Namestnikov was hurt early in that game on a thundering hit into the boards and won't play Friday.

As for Tkachuk, Fox is one Ranger who knows all about the thorny element he brings to games: The two won a bronze medal together for the United States at the 2018 World Junior Championships, then were crosstown college opponents for one season, Fox at Harvard and Tkachuk under Quinn at Boston University.

Asked on Thursday whether Tkachuk's style was any different at the NHL level than in college, the rookie blueliner jumped right in.

"Oh no, oh no, oh no," Fox said. "Same exact guy."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

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

25 Hajek -- 8 Trouba
76 Skjei -- 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren -- 23 Fox

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

SENATORS
13 Paul -- 44 Pageau -- 28 C. Brown
7 Tkachuk -- 21 L. Brown -- 10 Duclair
89 Boedker -- 36 White -- 63 Ennis
78 Chlapik -- 71 Tierney -- 14 Veronneau

72 Chabot -- 22 Zaitsev
74 Borowiecki -- 2 DeMelo
29 Goloubef -- 81 Hainsey

41 Anderson
31 Nilsson


NUMBERS GAME

The Rangers are the only team in the League to have eight players age 21 or younger play for them this season. One of those players has had a point on 18 of the Rangers' last 20 goals.

The Rangers are 8-0-0 when they hold opponents to two goals or fewer, which they have done in six of their last 10 games.

Pavel Buchnevich has eight assists in the last seven games and 14 this season, tied with Artemi Panarin for the team lead. Buchnevich is three assists shy of matching last year's total. 

With five November games remaining on the Sens' schedule, Jean-Gabriel Pageau is within reach of Daniel Alfredsson's franchise record of 13 goals in a calendar month, set in November 2005.

Anthony Duclair has three goals in the last three games and ranks second on the Sens with nine this season.

Craig Anderson is 13-8-3 in his career against the Rangers, and his 1.88 GAA and .939 save percentage are the 17-year veteran's best marks against any NHL opponent.

Ottawa's power play sits 31st in the League at 8 percent, and is just 2-for-35 on home ice (5.7 percent).


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Artemi Panarin has 2-5--7 and plus-8 in his last five games against the Senators. He has scored in both games as a Ranger against the Sens, and overall he has been on the ice for eight of the Blueshirts' last 10 goals.

After scoring three times in 11 October games, Jean-Gabriel Pageau has 10 goals in 11 November contests, most this month by any NHL player. His 13 goals through 22 games already put him within six of his career high of 19 in 2015-16, and his plus-17 leads the NHL.

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