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Nashville Predators vs. New York Rangers: Good Guys vs. Jimmy Vesey

Oh, people thought we’ve forgotten him?

NHL: New York Rangers at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Ugh, that Vesey kid again.

The Nashville Predators face the New York Rangers tonight in a battle of teams desperate for points. While the Predators have a thin grasp on third in the Central Division, the New York Rangers are fourth in the Metropolitan Division. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking the Predators are having a better season: the Rangers have 69 points and a +49 goal differential to the Predators’ 60 points and +9 differential.

While the offense of the Rangers has been humming along to the tune of 181 goals so far, good for second in the NHL, questions have been raised about the quality of Henrik Lundqvist this season. Granted, they still have conceded the fourth fewest goals in the Eastern Conference, but there have been a lot of softer shots that have snuck past the veteran Swedish netminder.

The last time these two teams faced each other on December 17, the Predators lost 2-1 in a shootout at home. Despite the Jimmy Vesey boo-level eclipsing current Ryan Suter levels, the young forward scored the shootout winning goal, stealing two points for the Rangers. Tonight the Predators will be keen on returning the favor and earning a win on the Rangers’ home ice.

The New York Rangers

The Rangers have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season despite being fourth in their own division. They are well above .500, scoring at a remarkable pace, and are playing a complete game on both ends of the rink. Coming in off of a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Rangers are riding a three game winning streak into tonight’s contest against the Predators.

While prior to the season some pundits looked at the Rangers and criticized them for having a lot of aging players that could become dead weight, their young players have been electric this season. Not many people knew the name J.T. Miller before this season but, with 42 points, the 23-year-old is only one point away from tying his point total from last season. 25-year-old Chris Kreider is also having himself one heck of a year, notching 38 points so far. He had 43 last season. Finally, one of the biggest changes has been forward Michael Grabner who, after posting 18 points in Toronto last season, has earned 34 points so far due to his speed.

The young guns taking hold of the offense has helped make the aging of some Ranger members significantly easier for the organization. Rick Nash’s body has shown signs of wear, missing significant portions of the season for three of the last four years. He’s already had to miss thirteen games this season.

Furthermore, Henrik Lundqvist has been shockingly average this season, even if he’s beating Pekka Rinne in tonight’s handsome/60 match-up. His 2.69 GAA isn’t great. It isn’t good. It’s bad. Among goalies with more than 20 games played, his GAA is good enough for...27th in the league. But hey, his .910 save percentage is better! He’s 26th among those same goalies in that statistic! Yes, this season has been rough for Lundqvist. His backup Antti Raanta has looked much better so far and perhaps it is time for the Rangers to finally take a hard look at the future in goal.

The Nashville Predators

The Predators are also coming into this contest fresh off of a win against a team from the Pacific Division, dispatching the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.

Before the game, there was a significant amount of line juggling and personnel changes. Mike Ribeiro packed his bags for Milwaukee, Vernon Fiddler made his re-debut with the Predators, and head coach Peter Laviolette began tinkering with lines that appeared to be working.

Although Laviolette broke up everyone’s favorite line of Ryan Johansen centering Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, Laviolette seemed to strike gold with the new line of Calle Jarnkrok centering Arvidsson and Colin Wilson. Jarnkrok and Arvidsson each had a goal and an assist against the Canucks. James Neal, not scoring at his usual pace, replaced Arvidsson on the first line. While Neal still did not score, the line of him, Johansen, and Forsberg already has long-established chemistry dating back to last season.

Furthermore, Roman Josi played two more minutes against the Canucks than in his first game back from a concussion last Saturday. As he begins feeling more comfortable on the ice, the defense will only improve.

It really feels like this Predators team is coming together at the right time. A big win over one of the best teams in the East on the road would help affirm that notion.

Reasons to Watch

  • The sensational Swedish scoring squad is on fire. Forsberg (it was changed to Arvidsson, as it was later determined it went off his skate), Jarnkrok, and Arvidsson again, the leading Swede in the happy/60 stat, all scored last game. Hopefully more of the same emerges tonight!
  • James Neal is due. Back on the first line with Johansen and Forsberg, he’ll explode for a few goals sooner or later.
  • Kevin Klein is playing! Sure, he’s wearing a Rangers sweater, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Kleiner.

Gameday Hockey Lingo Word of the Day

Grocery Stick, noun.

Definition: A fourth line skater who never plays, often sitting between and separating the forwards and defensemen on the bench.

Example: “Pontus may have been a grocery stick in the playoffs last season, but now the young Swede is looking more comfortable out there!”

Sights and Sounds

The puck drops at 6:00 p.m. CST. The Predators will be televised on FS-TN and available on the radio at 102.5 The Game.