The New York Rangers are in a good spot these days.
Looking back, they can take confidence in an 8-2-1 record over their last 11 games, a stretch that’s seen them move into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Looking forward, they’ve got an opportunity to keep climbing the standings, with eight of their 12 games before the Olympic break at Madison Square Garden and two of the four road games not really being road games at all, given they’ll be at Yankee Stadium.
Tonight, the resurgent Rangers host Tampa Bay. On Thursday, the Red Wings are in town.
“I think before the good stretch, we talked about playing tighter,” forward Derick Brassard said, per The Record. “I think we found chemistry between lines. We’ve been hot on the power play. When we’re not scoring, we’re looking for answers. Now we’re scoring so we don’t really talk about it. Right now, we’re just playing well. Everything is going well.”
And, of course, it helps greatly that goalie Henrik Lundqvist is starting to find the form that earned him that big contract extension. In five January starts, Lundqvist’s save percentage is .923, which certainly compares favorably to the .888 mark he registered in December.
While much has been written about the Boston Bruins’ depleted defense, there’s also a good amount of intrigue about the forward group, which will look dramatically different tonight compared to last year’s season opener.
Here are the Bruins’ expected lines versus the Jets:
Brad Marchand–Patrice Bergeron–Loui Eriksson
Matt Beleskey–David Krejci–David Pastrnak
Jimmy Hayes–Ryan Spooner–Brett Connolly
Chris Kelly–Joonas Kemppainen–Zac Rinaldo
The line most under the microscope may be that second one. In today’s Boston Globe, there’s a lengthy story on Krejci. The 29-year-old center with the big contract only played 47 games last season due to injuries. He finished with just 31 points.
So, where is Krejci’s game now?
Then there’s free-agent addition Matt Beleskey, a.k.a. Milan Lucic‘s replacement. Prior to scoring 22 times last year for the Ducks, the 27-year-old Beleskey had never tallied more than 11 goals in a season.
So, is Beleskey a legitimate top-six forward?
On the other wing, it’s David Pastrnak, the 19-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly, emerged as one of the top rookies in the league last year.
So, can Pastrnak take another step forward?
“It’s been a good three plus weeks where we’ve been able to kind of work individually, as a group, as a line, with different players and different personalities,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’re pleased with it. We’re optimistic and we just have to let things work themselves out too.”
Last night in Los Angeles, Kings forward Milan Lucic received a match penalty after skating the entire width of the ice to give San Jose’s Logan Couture a two-hand shove to the face.
Lucic didn’t hurt Couture, who had caught Lucic with an open-ice hit that Lucic didn’t like. Couture’s smiling, mocking face was good evidence that the Sharks’ forward was going to be OK.
This morning, Lucic was still in disbelief that he was penalized so harshly.
“I didn’t cross any line,” Lucic said, per Rich Hammond of the O.C. Register. “Believe me, if my intentions were to hurt him, I would have hurt him.”
While Lucic knew he deserved a penalty, he said after the game that he didn’t “know why it was called a match penalty.” His coach, Darryl Sutter, agreed, calling it “a borderline even roughing penalty.”
And though former NHL referee Kerry Fraser believes a match penalty was indeed warranted, Lucic said this morning that he hasn’t heard from the NHL about any possible supplemental discipline.
Nor for that matter has Dustin Brown, after his high hit on Couture in the first period.
In conclusion, it’s good to have hockey back.
Related: Sutter says Kings weren’t ‘interested’ in checking the Sharks