The Rangers will receive one of their stiffest tests of the season, to date, when they host the St. Louis Blues this evening at Madison Square Garden, and head coach Alain Vigneault has opted to keep his lineup intact for the clash between two of the league's top teams.
That means veteran Dominic Moore will be a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game--joining rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath on the sidelines--and Emerson Etem will remain on the fourth line tonight, appearing in his season-high fourth straight contest.
"They were strong on the puck, strong on the fore check, strong on their back check," Vigneault said of how the fourth line--consisting of Etem, Jarret Stoll and Jesper Fast--performed in Tuesday's 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
"It's not an easy decision, and it's not an easy conversation to have with a guy like Dom, but I feel that for tonight I just wanted to go with the same forwards."
Fast scored his second goal in as many games Tuesday, with Etem earning an assist. Stoll and Fast also were standouts on the team's excellent six-for-six penalty kill.
"When I get in it just feels like I have to make plays," explained Etem, who has two assists in six games. "(Last game) we generated chances because we were reading off one another really well, things like when to come across when coming out of the zone. (Fast) just kind of knows where I am, and I know where he is, and Stoll complements us, too."
After the Rangers morning skate Thursday at The Garden Vigneault pointed out that his lineup is still a work in progress and that nothing is etched in stone, especially with the fourth line.
"In a season there's always going to be moving parts," explained the head coach. "This is probably the earliest (in a season) that I've basically set duos and lines . The results--obviously we're 11-2-2--have been pretty good. We still need to improve our process. We're aware of that and we're working on that."
Vigneault and his team are well aware that they need to be at their very best this evening, facing a Blues team that has won six of its last seven, nearly duplicating the six-game winning streak New York carries into this game.
The Blues have shut out their past two opponents, and they are looking to close out a four-game road trip tonight with a perfect 4-0-0 record.
"Tonight we have one of the best teams in the league coming in here," aid Vigneault. "St. Louis, you look at that team not having given up a goal its last two games. Their defense, their offense, that's one of the best teams in the league and it's going to be a great game. Our guys got here this morning and they were talking about, they were excited about it. We're all looking forward to it."