After the five-day All Star recess, the Rangers return to action Tuesday to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden.
The Blueshirts have split the first two meetings with the Blue Jackets this season, both of which came in Columbus. The Rangers were victorious in the last tilt back on Jan. 7, when they scored four straight goals, including three in the third that was capped off by Michael Grabner's hat trick goal with 17 seconds to go on their way to a 5-4 win over the Blue Jackets.
With this being the third time the two teams have met this season, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said there were no surprises heading into tonight's contest.
"They're a hard-working, skilled team," Vigneault said Monday. "They added some young players, especially on the back end that makes their transition, their counter game very, very effective."
"There's no surprises from our end," Vigneault added. "We know we're playing against a real good team that this year it seems they've really found their game."
Those young defensemen are rookie Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, who the Blue Jackets acquired a season ago from Nashville. Werenski, in his first season out of the University of Michigan, has eight goals and 29 points through 48 games. Jones, meanwhile, is just three points shy of matching his career-best of 27, which he set as a sophomore back in 2014-15 with the Predators. His seven goals is just one shy of his career best.
Vigneault also praised Columbus' offensive depth. The Blue Jackets have two players with 40 or more points, led by All Star Cam Atkinson's 46 in 48 games this season. The Blue Jackets have three other players with at least 33 points, and two others with at least 29 points.
"They've got four lines that they play," Vigneault said. "They've got four lines that play well."
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist echoed the sentiments of his coach and said the formula for Columbus' success has been there for several years, but the pieces brought in from the outside have completed the puzzle.
"As a group, they're a really dangerous team," said Lundqvist, who is 7-1-0 in his last eight appearances against the Blue Jackets. "They work really hard. They've been doing that for years, but I think they've added some skill now. They have more confidence and good goaltending."
The two teams enter tonight's game separated by five points in the Metropolitan Division standings. Columbus' 68 points are good enough for second in the division, while the Rangers' 63 place them in the Eastern Conference's top Wild Card slot, two points behind Pittsburgh.
With the first half of the season in the rearview mirror, Lundqvist said Tuesday is a good challenge for the Rangers to open up the stretch run towards the playoffs.
"They've been a really strong team this year," Lundqvist said of Columbus. "It's going to be a challenging game for us. Hopefully we can start off in a really good way here and beat a good team."