Avalanche meet Rangers in potential Stanley Cup preview
Posted on: 04 Feb, 2024 at 10:03 PM
Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The first game of the season between the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche might be a preview of the last game of the season.
But when the unofficial first half of the season ended, the Rangers were still trying to get into a groove like the one the Avalanche found weeks ago.
The division leaders return to action Monday when the Rangers host the Avalanche.
The Rangers haven't played since Jan. 27 when they routed the host Ottawa Senators 7-2. The Avalanche last took the ice Jan. 26 when they won their third straight by beating the visiting Los Angeles Kings 5-1.
Earning a decisive win against the Senators allowed the Rangers to maintain sole possession of the lead in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, and perhaps establish some momentum after a challenging January.
The Rangers went 5-7-2 in January, during which they won consecutive games just once. New York also lost center Filip Chytil for the season after he aggravated an upper-body injury, believed to be a concussion, during a morning skate prior to a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 26.
The Rangers fell to the reigning Stanley Cup champions 5-2 before spotting the Senators the first two goals 24 hours later. But a fight between New York defenseman Connor Mackey, in his team debut, and Ottawa left winger Brady Tkachuk seemed to spark the visitors, who scored seven unanswered goals.
"We're in the business of winning," Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I know it's frustrating. Tonight -- with playing last night, against a rested team, in their building, travel, short a few players -- that's a big win."
The Rangers will get a little closer to whole Monday when defenseman Ryan Lindgren is expected to return after missing the Senators game with an upper-body injury. Captain and fellow defenseman Jacob Trouba will sit out Monday as he completes his two-game suspension for elbowing Vegas left winger Pavel Dorofeyev.
The Avalanche headed into the All-Star break in far better shape, going 11-3-0 since Dec. 29 to move into first place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Dallas Stars.
Colorado outscored a trio of contenders -- the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Kings -- by a combined 18-7 in winning its final three games before the break.
The winning streak is the sixth time this season the Avalanche have won at least three consecutive games. Colorado hasn't lost consecutive games since Dec. 7-9 and has suffered more than two straight losses just once.
The Avalanche lead the NHL with 188 goals. Center Nathan MacKinnon is tied with Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov for NHL lead in assists with 53 and ranks second with 84 points, one behind Kucherov. Forward Mikko Rantanen (66) and defenseman Cale Makar (58) are also in the top 15 in points.
While MacKinnon, Rantanen and Makar combined for 12 goals during the final three games before the break, the Avalanche also received five goals from Logan O'Connor and six assists from Ross Colton.
"Just because Nate and Mikko and those guys have been tearing it up doesn't mean we haven't been getting some decent contributions from the rest of our lineup here recently," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said following the win over the Kings.
"That's why we're able to put up a handful of goals a night instead of one or two."
The Avalanche will get another boost Monday, when left winger Zach Parise is expected to make his debut for the team. The 39-year-old Parise, who has 429 goals in 18 NHL seasons, signed with Colorado Jan. 26.
He played for the New York Islanders last season and finished with 21 goals while playing all 82 games.
--Field Level Media