Bring on the Blackhawks!
Or is it: Bring on the Blackhawks….(cue the foreboding organ music in the background)?
For some fans, it will be a feeling of dread, for others, excitement, as the New York Rangers take the ice against the defending Stanley Cup champs tonight in Chicago. The Blackhawks have slumped all the way to 2nd in the league in points, a clear sign of a Stanley Cup hangover.
In reality, the Rangers tonight are facing the team many consider to be the deepest and most talented in the league. Chicago is undefeated in regulation in their last 10 (6-0-4), and boast an embarrassment of riches, with the leagues second leading scorer–Patrick Kane–leading the way, and the likes of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith–all Olympians–riding shotgun.
Chicago leads the league with a whopping 3.62 goals per game, and that is no fluke. This is a team that borders on dominant, outshooting opponents by an average of 6 shots per game–2nd only to San Jose, who started the season throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the net–and boasts a 1.45 goals for/against ratio in 5-on-5 play.
In comparison, the Rangers 5-on-5 for/against ratio is just .80–26th in the league. Imagine where they'd be without a vastly improved power play.
Handling Chicago will be a difficult task. If the Rangers play a turnover laden game–as they've been apt to do–it could get ugly fast. Few–if any–other teams in the league have to ability to make you pay for a mistake like the Blackhawks. The Blueshirts will have to make Chicago play in their own end, where the likes of Patrick Kane can't hurt you, and where the defending champs have been reasonably vulnerable (2.6 goals against per game, 13th in the league).
The power play could be key as well. Chicago's penalty kill has been horrendous, with a success rate of just 76.9%. Some of that has to do with shoddy goaltending–starter Corey Crawford missed a month before returning recently–but whatever the reason, the Rangers will need to make the Blackhawks pay if and when they get a chance with the man advantage.
The good news is, the Blueshirts' PP has been excellent of late: 11 for their last 38 (29%). Perhaps even more importantly, Rick Nash has the last 2.
It will be the Rangers' toughest test of the season, as they try again to climb 2 games over .500 for the first time all year.
Puck drops at 8.
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