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Rangers V Predators


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On Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers were on top of their game in beating the New Jersey Devils. Tonight they'll look to pick up where they left off, when the Nashville Predators visit the Garden for the first time since March 2004.


Much of the Blueshirts success last season fed off momentum developed from home victories. In 2005-06, the Rangers were a remarkable 10-3-2 when playing at MSG in the wake of a previous win at home. Tonight's game offers a prime opportunity to capitalize on that MSG magic and what is sure to be a fired-up crowd of Rangers fans. After this game, the Blueshirts will go through a three-week span that includes only two home dates -- making tonight an important springboard into the road trips ahead.


This game also marks the first of 10 meetings with Western Conference teams -- as opposed to 72 against the East -- in 2006-07. The Blueshirts will face all five Central Division teams at home and all five Pacific teams on the road. Last season, the Rangers went 5-4-1 against the West, and the most impressive of those victories came against the Predators in Nashville.


When the teams met on Dec. 8, 2005, in the Music City, the Blueshirts rolled out to a 5-0 lead through two periods and went on to an easy 5-1 win. It was a stunning display of dominance against a Predators team that had won 10 of its previous 12 games, including four straight. Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr led the way with a goal and two assists, and Petr Prucha tallied twice.


Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun was forced to leave that game after giving up two goals and spraining his knee in the opening period. At the other end of the ice, Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant, stopping 30 shots in one of his best road performances of the season.


Nearly one year later, the Predators are not flying quite as high as they were last December. At 2-3-0, Nashville has slipped to the bottom of the Central standings, but they are definitely on an upswing after an 0-3 start. The Predators gave up 17 goals in their first three losses – two of which came at the hands of Chicago. In two wins since then, they have allowed just two goals, most recently beating the Islanders in a shootout at Uniondale on Monday night.


A key to Nashville's turnaround has been the emergence of superstar forward Paul Kariya, who scored his first goal of the season in a 4-1 win over Phoenix and then tallied the shootout winner against the Islanders.


The high-scoring Kariya has four points in his first five games this season, but Nashville's early offensive leader is Steve Sullivan, who paces the team with three goals and six points. David Legwand is also off to a strong start with five points in five games, and off-season acquisition Jason Arnott has four assists.


Vokoun has also picked up his play, stopping 29 shots to beat the Coyotes and 26 on Long Island. The Predators' No. 1 goalie has already demonstrated his ability to win at Madison Square Garden, having beaten the Rangers there in his most recent visit on March 25, 2004, when he made 26 saves in a 4-2 Predators victory. It was the third time in four visits to The Garden that Nashville came away with a win, dating back to the last Rangers home victory over the Predators on Jan. 31, 2000.


The biggest concern for the Predators is their penalty killing, which is last in the league at 61.9 percent. They can't afford to perform at that rate against the Rangers, who have one of the league's best power plays in the season's early going, scoring on one of every five opportunities.


Across the board, this year's Rangers team has even more offensive firepower than the one that blitzed the Predators in Nashville last December. Through Monday night, the Blueshirts had three of the NHL's top five scorers in Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Michael Nylander. Shanahan had the league's goals lead with seven in six games, and Jagr led the NHL in assists with nine. Jagr comes into tonight having scored at least one point and at least one assist in every game of the season so far.


Despite all this success in the attacking zone, the focus of the Blueshirts' game will once again be defense and an aggressive penalty killing unit. These two factors made the difference against New Jersey on Monday night and led to the scoring surge late in the second period.


"We had a meeting after the Buffalo game about working harder but also working smarter. There are a lot of hard working guys on the team but we got away from working together. We have some work ahead of us. We are still working on it," Shanahan said after Monday's game.


STANDINGS: Predators - 4 points, 5th place, Central Division Division. Rangers - 6 points, 1st place (tied), Atlantic Division.


TEAM LEADERS: Predators -- Sullivan, 3 goals and 6 points; Arnott, 4 assists; Darcy Hordichuk, 12 PIM. Rangers -- Shanahan, 7 goals; Jagr, 9 assists and 11 points; Jagr, 12 PIM.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Predators - Power play: 14.8 percent (4 for 27), 19th in NHL. Penalty killing: 61.9 percent (13 for 21), 30th. Rangers - Power play: 20.0 percent (7 for 35), 8th. Penalty killing: 79.1 percent (34 for 43), 24th.


GOALTENDERS: Predators - Vokoun (2-2-0, 0 SO, 3.72 GAA); Chris Mason (0-1-0, 0, 2.03). Rangers - Lundqvist (3-2-0, 0, 3.56); Weekes (0-1-0, 0, 7.00).


2005-06 SEASON SERIES: Rangers, 1-0.


LAST MEETING: Dec. 8, 2005; Rangers, 5-1. Jagr opened the scoring at 12:31 with a wrap-around goal, and the Rangers never looked back. The Blueshirts rolled out to a 5-0 lead at 10:55 of the middle period. Jagr finished with three points, Prucha scored two goals, and Lundqvist made 30 saves for the win.


ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Predators -- 1-2 on road; Rangers -- 2-2 at home.

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Is Jed Ortmeyer on the team as of now or still out? I have not noticed his name being mentioned. Didn't they say some time ago that he would not survive this.

Nope, he is most likely out for the rest of the season. However I do think that he attends the home games I saw him at the preseason game that I went too.

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