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Notes: Red Wings facing hot Rangers at MSG

Mantha looking to bounce back in first game at Madison Square Garden

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

NEW YORK -- Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland often said it wasn't which team you were playing, it was when you played them.

Unfortunately for the Red Wings, they are visiting the New York Rangers at a difficult time.

The Rangers started slowly this season but have rounded into form this month, going 8-2-0 in their last 10 games.

The Rangers are also 8-4-2 at home.

"They've been excellent," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "They've, in our mind, the last number of games, I think the term is, manhandled their opponents. That's how good they've been here lately. They're a heavy, heavy team in the O-zone, they can really grind you out, they stretch to open ice very well using their speed. They've got some really fast, talented players so it'll be a great challenge. They've got to be one of the better teams in the league in terms of how they're playing right now.

"It'll be a great challenge for us but we're just focused on ourselves. We need to make sure, we've had one or two games where we haven't played as good as we think we can so let's get back to playing great hockey just to give yourself a chance to win."

The Wings are coming off two disappointing losses, a 4-3 overtime loss last Sunday to the Colorado Avalanche, and a 6-2 drubbing Wednesday by the Edmonton Oilers.

"When we play good, we play real fast and we're relentless," Blashill said. "We've got to make sure we're relentless on our forecheck, we're relentless on our track, we're pressuring all over the ice. We got a lot of people who can skate, we've got to use that skating to create that pressure and then we also have to use that speed to create great transition hockey. That's when we play our best."

Blashill has used the line of Luke Glendening, Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm to match up against their opponents' top lines but the Rangers have more than one top line.

"On the road it's obviously a little bit different," Blashill said. "What I've done when we were out west there was basically found out who they were matched against and every team's a little bit different. This team has great depth up front, certainly they have three real scoring lines. Any line's real dangerous. So that presents its own challenge. But I think with that said, even though I've used the match line to get that line identity, I also think we have excellent two-way centers - Zetterberg, Larkin, Double-A are all excellent two-way centers so I feel confident having any of those groups out there. We got to make sure that we're on the attack as much as possible here tonight. We can't be on our heels against this team."

Chris Kreider, Mike Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich have 21 goals among 39 points in their last 16 games. At least one of those three has scored a goal in 13 of the last 16 contests.

New York state native Jimmy Howard gets the start and he has had good success at Madison Square Garden.

In 10 career games against the Rangers, Howard is 5-3-2 with a 1.69 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

MSG A SPECIAL PLACE: NHL and NBA players alike all relish the chance to perform on the big stage, which Madison Square Garden represents.

Anthony Mantha is no different.

"Yeah, for me it's going to be my first game there," Mantha said after Thursday's practice. "I just saw how it looked when I first got called up, I was a healthy scratch. (Friday) is a new day and I want to be a good player (Friday) night."

Mantha is coming off a couple of subpar games and is looking to bounce back, something his coach fully expects.

"He knows he's got to be better than he's been the last couple games," Blashill said. "He knows it, I know it. If I didn't think he had better in him, we wouldn't have talked about it. But I think he's got greatness in him and greatness means you have to make sure you're as close to peak performance every night. I've got full belief that he's going to come out here and have a great game here tonight."

Madison Square Garden is also a special place for coaches.

"Oh, yeah, this is great," Blashill said. "This is the best. The energy in this city is unreal. I haven't spent tons of time here, it's been really neat to spend time in this city and to come to Madison Square Garden. It's got to be the best building outside of Little Caesars Arena in the U.S."

WILSON GOOD TO GO: Forward Scott Wilson left Wednesday night's game with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot in the second period and was unable to return.

Wilson practiced with the team Thursday and Blashill said Friday evening that he expected Wilson to be available.

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