The New York Rangers got a much-needed win heading into the holiday break. They cannot afford a post-holiday letdown in their first game back.
New York will face the league-leading Ottawa Senators at the Corel Centre in the first of four meetings between the teams this season.
The Rangers have been outscored 16-3 in three straight losses to the Senators. New York also has dropped seven of eight to Ottawa since a 5-2 win on March 21, 2002.
New York snapped a three-game losing streak - all at home - Thursday with a 4-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Martin Rucinsky had a goal and two assists, Petr Prucha and Martin Straka also scored and league scoring leader Jaromir Jagr added three assists.
All four players will represent the Czech Republic in February at the Turin Olympics.
Jagr has 32 goals and 30 assists in 47 career games against the Senators, but has struggled recently against them, recording one assist in eight games.
New York also got a key goal and an assist in Thursday's win from much-maligned defenseman Tom Poti in his first game back after being benched for three.
"He's sat out because of me in the past," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "He's played and played a lot and will continue to because of how he has delivered since. I would like nothing more for Tom Poti to become so important to this team that the fans recognize that."
Poti, however, is scoreless with a minus-5 rating in his last eight games against the Senators.
Ottawa returns home after a 4-2 victory Friday over the New York Islanders. Patrick Eaves, Zdeno Chara and rookie Andrej Mezaros scored in a 2:42 span early in the first period as the Senators improved to 3-0 against the Islanders this season.
"Give the Islanders credit. They played hard," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. "This is the best they've played against us."
Dany Heatley, a Canadian Olympic team pick, scored Ottawa's final goal, giving him two goals and three assists during a four-game points streak. He has eight goals and eight assists in 11 career games against the Rangers.
Ray Emery made 25 saves in place of Czech Olympic selection Dominik Hasek, who was given the night off and will almost surely start this game.
Hasek, who turns 41 late next month, is 15-11-6 with a 2.31 goals-against average, .923 save percentage and five career shutouts against the Rangers.
STANDINGS: Rangers - 46 points, 2nd place, 1 PB, Atlantic Division. Senators - 51 points, 1st place, Northeast Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rangers - Jagr, 23 goals, 31 assists and 54 points; Michal Rozsival, 44 PIM. Senators - Daniel Alfredsson and Heatley, 22 goals; Jason Spezza, 34 assists; Alfredsson, 50 points; Chara, 88 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 25): Rangers - Power play: 16.5 percent (35 for 212), 17th in NHL. Penalty killing: 87.7 percent (207 for 236), 2nd. Senators - Power play: 23.3 percent (49 for 210), 2nd. Penalty killing: 85.5 percent (187 for 220), 4th.
GOALTENDERS: Rangers - Henrik Lundqvist
(13-5-3, 1 SO, 2.11 GAA); Kevin Weekes (8-6-1, 2.76). Senators - Hasek (17-5-2, 3, 2.11); Emery (7-1-1, 1, 2.19).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Senators, 3-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 16, 2004; Senators, 4-1. At New York, Chara and Josh Langfeld scored 41 seconds apart midway through the third period for Ottawa.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rangers - 10-6-2 on the road; Senators - 13-3-0 at home.
- Associated Press