Hey look, it is a rare appearance of a pre-game report! How about that? The Rangers face off for their most important game of the season tomorrow night in Atlanta. The game starts at 7:30 and is on MSG 2, where we will be subjected to the annoying awfulness of Joe Micheletti. Joy. The Knicks are getting MSG as they face the Lakers (the game is on ESPN, why does MSG have to do it as well?) but why the Rangers couldn't take MSG+ away from the Islanders is beyond me. The Isles play the Crosby-less Pens, while the Devils are stuck on MSG+2 for their game against the Sharks. Yeah, that makes sense.
Where We Are: Trying to make sense of our season. The team had a big three days off where they licked their wounds from Detroit, took care of some public engagements and practiced, practiced, practiced. Hopefully something they worked on clicked because something needs to happen to snap this five game losing streak. The slide has left them in seventh place, with 62 points in 56 games played - tied for the most games played in the conference - and are just three points over eighth place Carolina.
Where They Are: They are other team in the East to have skated 56 times this season. Atlanta sits in ninth place with 58 points, four behind the Rangers and one behind the Hurricanes. Now that could change tonight as the Canes play one of their two games in hand, facing off against the Flyers in Philly. The Thrashers are struggling, having lost seven of eight (three were OTLs - one being the loss to the Rangers in a shootout on January 22nd). After a surprise 1-0 win over Washington at the end of January, the Birdies have lost to the Isles, Flames, Canes and Leafs. The loss to the Leafs was on Monday and it wasn't pretty, they blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 on their way to a 5-4 loss.
Who To Watch For: Borat scored in the last Ranger game against Atlanta and he has eight points in his last 10 games. Former Devil Niclas Bergfors hasn't been able to recapture his hot hand from the start of the season but has been chipping in a few points lately; luckily he was atrocious against Toronto. Dustin Byfuglien scored in that Toronto game but it was his only point in his last 14 games - guess teams are getting used to seeing his big body rushing in from the blueline. Rich Peverley has seven points in eight career games against the Rangers, Evander Kane has three in four and Freddie Modin has 27 in 28. Modin, thankfully, is day-to-day with an upper body injury and might not play. Rookie Alex Burmistrov has one point in his last 15 games and has a goal drought of 26 games, which almost ensures that he will score on Hank. There are actually (shockingly) trade rumours floating around about Zach Bogosian, the third overall pick in '08, so look for him to do his best to cement a spot in Atlanta - his three points in his last two games have been a start.
What To Watch For: The Rangers to score at least a pair of goals. Atlanta's likely starter Ondrej Pavelec has only allowed less than two goals in a game once in his last 20 appearances. The Thrashers could be without puck-moving Swedish stud Tobias Enstrom, so look for the Rangers to be more successful with their forecheck. Enstrom is working his way back from a fractured finger and could play any day. And see what kind of form Hank has after having over a week off.
What We'll (Hopefully) See: The Ranger power play not sucking - all of that practice has to pay off, right? Seeing as Atlanta isn't a great team, perhaps Marian Gaborik can show up to pot a few goals. Maybe Torts will stick with a line from faceoff to buzzer for once. And, it is hard for me to say this, but no fighting unless circumstances dictate it; Prust had better not battle with Boulton for the sake of the fighting - he is too valuable to go down against a goon like that.
Also Check Out: The Thrashers keep their own blog/PR machine called Blueland, the main stream media in Atlanta actually cover the team and Do The Thrashers Have Large Talons? (I still hate the SBN name so I won't use it) is a solid read.