Clean Water, quiet streets, and friendly people. The Chicago Blackhawks don’t get to return to those things just yet after their trip to Sochi because they have to make a stop in New York to face the New York Rangers tonight. Both the ‘Hawks and the Rangers had a lot of representatives in Sochi, so it will be interesting to see who comes out with tired legs in the return to league action. The Blackhawks were struggling somewhat before the break and will be looking to take back the division lead from the St. Louis Blues. The Rangers on the other hand will be looking to keep their momentum going from before the Olympic break. However, they will have to do so without their leading scorer Mats Zuccarello, who injured his hand during the winter games and will be out about a month. Here are three other players for the Rangers that will have to play well if they want to keep moving up the Eastern Conference standings:
1. Henrik Lundqvist – Even without a gold medal to show for it, King Henrik proved why is he one of the best goaltenders in the world with his performance for his home country of Sweden. Lundqvist was one of the best players in Sochi and has always excelled at international play. Though he wasn’t having his best season, Henrik is certainly trending upwards. In his last four games before the Olympics, Lundqvist only gave up a total of seven goals, four of them to one of the best offenses in the league in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The ‘Hawks have had a bit of trouble scoring and hopefully the trend doesn’t continue after the break, but King Henrik won’t make anything easier on the Blackhawks offense.
2. Derick Brassard – It is somewhat depressing to see someone your age doing great things in professional sports. Brassard has had a solid regular season and was one of the Ranger’s hottest players going into the Olympic games break. His 34 points so far this season isn’t going to make eyes pop, but his physical style of play and ability to get good shots on net because of it will create a problem for the Blackhawk defenders. Look for Brassard to try and play in front of the net, or help screen defending forwards on the rush to give his line mates better scoring opportunities.
3. Benoit Pouliot – Now one wouldn’t think to be so afraid of a journeyman who has played on five teams in seven years and has almost twice as many career penalty minutes than points. But Pouliot has been a bit of a spark for the Rangers and is slowly getting more ice time as he continues to balance scoring and enforcing on a nightly basis. Pouliot will probably get a few shifts against Patrick Kane to see if he can disrupt any rhythm Kane gets into. I expect Pouliot to leave his hand print on tonight’s game.
The Blackhawks and Rangers face off at Madison Sqaure Garden tonight at 7 PM EST.
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