First Night of a Back-to-Back
New York, NY – The St. Louis Blues (41-27-8) head to Madison Square Garden in a Friday night 7 pm matchup against the New York Rangers (29-34-13). The Blues swept their four-game homestand and moved within two points on the second-place Nashville Predators with a game in hand. In addition, defenseman Carl Gunnarsson returned to the lineup in a 3-1 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights after missing 24 games with a wrist injury. Despite not being at prime form right away, Gunnarsson is optimistic. “I didn’t have any expectations of going in and feeling great about everything,” he told STL-Today. “It’s going to be a process, hopefully, a quick one.”
The Rangers are having one of their worst seasons in the modern era of the NHL, with only 29 wins. They only have two wins in their last 15, and 13 games this season have resulted in overtime losses. With the defense in dire straits and a quickly aging roster, the Rangers will have a lot of questions to answer in the offseason. The Rangers and Blues wrap up their season series after the Rangers won in St. Louis on New Years’ Eve, 2-1.
The New York Rangers have been on a downhill slope ever since losing in the Cup finals to Los Angeles in 2014 and the Conference Finals to Tampa Bay in 2015. After firing Alain Vigneault at the end of the 2018 season, David Quinn took on his first year as an NHL coach with Lindy Ruff as his defensive assistant. As evidenced, the veteran experience of Ruff has not paid off, as the Rangers have been at the bottom of the goals-for, goals-against, and penalty kill stats for two straight seasons. They have also already been eliminated from playoff contention this season and shipped off key players like Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello.
A ‘Ruff’ Patch
While Ruff has a lot to do with the poor defensive work the last two years, he’s not entirely to blame. Head coach David Quinn joined the Rangers in May of 2018 with the draft less than a month away. With little to do in the draft and prospect training camp, Quinn was forced to work with what he got, and he clearly wasn’t satisfied. In a headline-making postgame interview, head coach David Quinn gave a very candid analysis of the team’s performance after a 7-5 loss to Columbus back in January.
“I don’t think we’re physical enough. We don’t have enough grit when it comes to 1-on-1 battles,” Quinn told Rangers media. “Listen, you’re gonna lose hockey games, but you better want to battle somebody… Three games where we feel pretty good about our effort and compete, and then we go out there and do that (losing 7-5)? It’s a freakin’ joke.”
Regardless of standings, there’s much to do in the offseason with new coach David Quinn, and the current Rangers’ roster and new blood will have to buy into his vision of a successful rebuild season.
Blues On The Brink (In The Best Way)
The St. Louis Blues are just one win away from clinching a playoff spot with six games remaining on the season. They can also clinch with an Arizona or Colorado loss, and can even take 2nd place in the Central Division. That would give them the home-ice advantage over their likely first-round opponent Nashville Predators, who are only two points ahead of St. Louis. “Keep playing,” captain Alex Pietrangelo said to STL-Today. “We’re trying to catch Winnipeg, that’s the goal. We’re trying to catch Nashville and we’re trying to catch Winnipeg and keep pushing away.” While catching Winnipeg for first in the division is a long shot, the Blues have great potential to take home ice advantage away from Nashville in the first round.
Remaining Schedule & Healthy Roster
The Blues, in addition to having the most favorable schedule to finish up the season (the Blues’ only playoff competition in the final six games is Colorado on 4/1), are getting their full roster healthy and ready for postseason contention. David Perron and Carl Gunnarsson are a big addition of depth to the roster after both missing 24 games with injuries. Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko, some of the top point scorers along with Perron, were both injured for a handful of games late down the stretch but are ready for playoffs as well.
As it stands, Joel Edmundson and Sammy Blais are also the final two on the roster still waiting to be reactivated, with Edmundson’s timetable looking positive. The scoresheet has reflected the healthy depth: 15 of the 19 goals scored in the Blues’ 4-0-0 homestand were scored by players who were not in the top forward line or defensive pairing.
The Blues face off against the Rangers at 7 pm ET at Madison Square Garden. To watch or listen to the faceoff, head to:
STL: FSMW, KMOX 1120, NHL.tv
NYR: MSG, WNYM 970, NHL.tv
10 Schenn – 90 O’Reilly – 91 Tarasenko
17 Schwartz – 70 Sundqvist – 57 Perron
7 Maroon – 21 Bozak – 18 Thomas
20 Steen – 49 Barbashev – 12 Sanford
27 Pietrangelo – 29 Dunn
55 Parayko – 19 Bouwmeester
4 Gunnarsson – 41 Bortuzzo
NEW YORK RANGERS:
48 Lemieux – 93 Zibanejad – 89 Buchnevich
90 Namestnikov – 72 Chytil – 95 Lettieri
26 Vesey – 50 Andersson – 16 Strome
24 Nieves – 21 Howden – 42 Smith
22 Shattenkirk – 76 Skjei
77 DeAngelo – 33 Claesson
44 Pionk – 58 Gilmour
For more local Blues stories, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!