Struggling Rangers head to Chicago
Wednesday, 12.09.2009 / 6:30 PM
David Kalan - NHL.com Staff Writer
RANGERS (14-14-1) at BLACKHAWKS (18-7-3)
: New York 4-6-0; Chicago 7-2-1.
: This will be the only meeting of the year between the Original Six rivals. The Rangers swept the season series a year ago with a 4-2 win in their home opener and a 3-2 win in the Windy City on Jan. 16.
: Central-leading Chicago will look to build on Saturday's big win over Pittsburgh and snap out of its recent funk when the struggling Rangers come to town.
: New York started off the year with a boom, but over the last few weeks the Blueshirts have barely resembled the juggernaut that opened the season. Since a 7-4 win over Columbus on Nov. 23, the Rangers offense has sputtered, scoring as many as three goals only once -- in an 8-3 loss to the Penguins, no less -- while lighting the lamp just 10 times in six games. The result has been a 2-4-0 mark over those six games, and just one win in regulation.
Compounding the problem is that Henrik Lunqvist has not performed up to his typically elite standards between the pipes. The perrennial Vezina contender has given up four goals three times in that stretch, something that had only happened two other times all season.
Lundqvist and the offense could use a breakout from Marian Gaborik. While Gaborik leads the League with 21 goals, he has scored in only one of the last five games. The Slovak has still contributed, dishing three assists in his last four games, and after going pointless against Detroit Sunday, New York can likely count on him to get back on the scoresheet. Gaborik hasn't gone two straight games without a point all season.
: After fashioning an eight-game winning streak last month, the Hawks have struggled to regain their groove. Chicago has lost three of its last five games, and much like the Rangers, the Blackhawks' offense, too, is struggling. The Hawks have yet to win in regulation since that eight-game stretch, while scoring only seven goals in the process. An obvious source of concern might be Patrick Kane
. While the winger has been setting up teammates, Kane is nearly three weeks removed from his last goal, a game-winner against the Oilers on Nov. 21.
Chicago did get a big win its last time out, defeating the defending-Champion Penguins, 2-1, in overtime, but with the offense still having difficulty, the victory was mostly due to a 32-save outing from Antti Niemi
. While Niemi briefly challenged for the starting job in October, he has only gotten three starts since. However, with a 5-1-1 mark and a 1.71 goals-against average on the year, coach Joel Quenneville said this week Niemi has earned an opportunity to get more work. Quenneville stated Tuesday that Huet will get the call against New York, but Chicago could see itself with a heavier dose of Niemi in the coming weeks.
: Despite the offensive lull, New York has gotten production from the blueline, as Marc Staal has notched a point in four of his last five games. In Chicago, Marian Hossa
looks to be giving the production the Hawks counted on when they signed him this offseason. While he went scoreless in his second and third games with the team, Hossa now has four points in the three games since.
: With the exception of longterm injuries to Adam Burish and Dave Bolland
, the Hawks will have a full lineup Wednesday. New York is still without Brandon Dubinsky, who is likely to be out two more weeks with a broken hand, while Donald Brashear and Wade Redden are listed as questionable.
: Patrick Kane
's seven-game goal-less streak is his third of five games or more this year. While they are not the longest stretches of Kane's career -- he endured a 12-game drought last December and January -- and Kane does have five assists over his current dryspell it is still a worrisome trend for the Hawks. Kane only had three goal-less streaks of five or more games all last season.
: While both teams have been middling of late, the talent on New York and Chicago's rosters should eventually lift them from their current slumps. With their victory over the Penguins in tow, though, the Blackhawks could be closer to breaking out of the rut. That said, knocking off the Rangers could be tougher for the Hawks than it might seem. Chicago hasn't beaten New York in four years, and the Hawks haven't taken out the Broadway Blues in regulation since December of 2002.