Heading into Thursday night’s match against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the New York Rangers are coming off of a shutout loss to a strong Winnipeg team. The Rangers got Patrik Laine’d in the 3-0 defeat as the former second overall pick scored all three Jets goals for his first hat-trick of the season. Now, the question is — is the tank back on? The Rangers won three straight after the trade deadline, furthering themselves from the Rasmus Dahlin sweepstakes and actually putting themselves back in the playoff hunt (albeit, with a very small chance).
Regardless of how well New York plays over the coming weeks, there is a strong chance that fans will see some top prospects (Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson) get a look in the NHL during the last nine games of the season. (For those who don’t know, a prospect’s entry-level contract goes into effect if they play more than nine games. For a team who has fully committed to the rebuilding process, it makes no sense to burn the first year of a contract at the end of a lost season.) If the Rangers lose their next two games, management can officially close the door on the playoffs and allow the kids to play. With that being said, it will be interesting to see how New York’s Florida trip shakes out. The Blueshirts will head to Tampa, Fla. on Thursday night to face the Lightning, the highest scoring team in the league.
Ryan McDonagh was reported earlier in the week to be out until at least the weekend and will just miss the match-up with the team where he wore the ‘C’ for four seasons. The King is expected to be in goal once again for the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad will be back in the lineup after missing the Winnipeg game due to the flu. Vlad Namestnikov will be at Amalie Arena for the first time in a road uniform and JT Miller will don the lightning bolt sweater against his former team.
Tampa Bay is the heavy favorite going into Thursday night, but Namestnikov will have something to prove to his former GM Steve Yzerman. Most people agree that Vlad and JT Miller were a wash in the trade, so why was he included? Yzerman has made a reputation for himself as a tough negotiator, so with Vlad being arbitration-eligible in the offseason, did Yzerman think he was fighting a losing battle? It makes logical sense, as does nearly every move Yzerman has made as GM, so we’ll see how this one pans out.