Coming off Tuesday's impressive 6-2 win over the Western Conference-leading Dallas Stars, the Rangers next challenge comes in a Saturday afternoon matinee at Madison Square Garden against a Washington Capitals team which leads the NHL with 63 points.
The Rangers will be without the services of forwards Chris Kreider and Emerson Etem for that contest. Kreider will miss his second straight game due to a cut on his right hand, while Etem has been sent to the Hartford Wolf Pack on a conditioning stint.
"If it was up to me I'd be playing," Kreider told reporters after taking part in practice on Friday afternoon. "The trainers wanted to make sure and give it another day or two, so that's what we're going to do."
Kreider suffered the cut on top of his hand during an altercation with Florida's Brandon Pirri last Saturday. The hand was creatively wrapped by the training staff on Friday, but the fear is exposing the cut to infection, hence the team's decision to hold Kreider back another day.
"I was expecting him to be a full-go today, but (the trainers) thought he needs at least another day," head coach Alain Vigneault said of the 24 year-old Kreider. "He looked pretty good out there today, but the medical staff is making sure, so I'd expect him to be ready for Boston (Monday's game against the Bruins)."
Etem was a healthy scratch against the Stars after appearing in nine of the previous ten games. In that span he recorded only one point, an assist in Minnesota on December 17. In 19 games played this season Etem has yet to record a goal and he has registered three assists.
"(Hartford) plays three games this weekend so we're going to send him down and let him play those three games," Vigneault said of the 23 year-old Etem. "It's probably the right thing to do."
For now, at least, Etem's spot has been taken by Jayson Megna, the soon-to-be 26 year-old forward who was recalled from Hartford earlier in the week and proceeded to score a goal and add an assist in his Blueshirts debut Tuesday, while skating on a line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash.
Megna now has six goals and 12 points in 49 career NHL games, all but one contest so far played as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's the nature of pro hockey, I'm battling each day for my spot," Megna told BlueshirtsUnited.com after practice Friday. "I'm not an established player yet, though that's obviously my end goal, but at this point I'm just trying to string together a bunch of games at the highest level to solidify myself as a National Hockey League player. It's kind of stressful at times, but I kind of love it. It's a competitive game, competitive nature, and it's a do or die situation."
As for facing a Capitals team that is 11-1-1 over its last 13 games, and which has already reached the 30-win plateau in just 40 games played this season, the Rangers are well aware of the challenge that sits before them on Saturday.
"They're playing with a lot of confidence," offered Henrik Lundqvist. "They haven't lost a lot this year, so we can't give them much and can't let them get going at all. It's a good test for us."
Added Vigneault, "Washington, hottest team in the league coming in..skill, size, speed, great transition game, and probably the hottest goalie (Braden Holtby) in the league right now. We've got to bring our best, and that's what we're going to try and do."