The Rangers have not drawn an easy schedule coming back to action as they face the Blackhawks tonight, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs all within a week; all of these teams are currently in the playoff picture.
If the Rangers are going to continue their hot streak that they left off at before the Olympic break then they are going to have to come out playing their best hockey of the season.
Missing their top scorer, Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers will need to get goal support from their top line of Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider and Rick Nash, a line that started to really mesh and produce consistently right before the break. This line will need to continue their success and score even more than before as the third line will be missing their top scorer and suffer in production because of it.
Another crucial aspect of the Rangers’ game that needs to be at its best, especially against the offensive powerhouse Blackhawks, is the defense and goaltending. Head coach Alain Vigneault has stated that goaltender Cam Talbot will get the start in place of regular starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist to give Lundqvist a rest following his Olympic performance and long trip home to New York.
Talbot has an impressive record so far this season and will be anxious to show that he can still be a very reliable backup goalie to Lundqvist. If Talbot can provide the kind of performance we have become accustomed to this season then the Rangers will be fine on that end against the Blackhawks. However, Lundqvist will have to continue the streak of good play he has had of late, winning eight of his last 10 NHL starts and leading his country to the silver medal, if the Rangers want to continue their winning ways.
The defense will also have to come to play tonight against the Blackhawks and their league leading offense. The Rangers will need to keep the opportunities to a minimum and keep the puck out of their own zone as the Blackhawks are good at capitalizing on opportunities.
If the Rangers are able to come out and win tonight against one of the league’s best teams, New York should be able to continue their hot streak. Tonight’s game will be a great test of what the Rangers need to do be successful from here on out, and it will also be an indication of whether or not the Rangers will be contenders to go deep into the playoffs this season.