The New York Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets face-off tonight at Madison Square Garden for their only matchup of the season amidst a bevy of rumors surrounding a possible deal between the two clubs as the Feb. 26 trade deadline approaches.
Columbus (17-35-6) is last in the league in points with 40, and 10 behind the 14th-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference. The major topic of discussion has been the rumored trade of the talented 27-year old Columbus winger Rick Nash to the Rangers. Nash has 18 goals and 21 assists on the year and would certainly add depth to the Rangers as an elite power forward in the league, but his price tag of $7.5 million per year could pose a problem for the Rangers’ tight salary cap.
The Rangers (37-14-5) look to bounce back after what turned out to be a trap game against the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night. Martin Biron allowed all 4 goals in the first period, the worst period for the Rangers in weeks, after which New York could not fully recover.
The Blueshirts would like to avoid a similar game against another struggling team in the Blue Jackets, who are 7-19-3 on the road and have lost 6 of their last 10 games.
Steve Mason gets the start in net tonight against New York’s Henrik Lundqvist. Mason has struggled mightily this season, posting a 7-21-2 record with a 3.47 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. He was pulled after allowing 4 goals on 20 shots in last night’s game against the Blackhawks, but will continue to get starts while the Blue Jackets’ #1, Curtis Sanford, recovers from a back injury. Mason is 1-0-0 with a 3.48 goals against average and a .902 save percentage in two career starts against the Rangers.
Henrik Lundqvist will lead the Rangers’ rebounding effort in his first start since the 42-save Valentine’s Day shutout against the Boston Bruins. Lundqvist is 2-2-0 in 4 career games against the Jackets, posting a 2.77 goals against average and a .894 save percentage.
Wojtek Wolski has rejoined the team in practice and will likely start on the fourth line alongside John Mitchell and Mike Rupp. Wolski hasn’t registered a point since Jan. 14 against Toronto, but will look to capitalize on Columbus’ battered goaltender.
Perhaps tonight’s most interesting moments will come when Nash has the puck. How will the Garden crowd react to his presence on the ice? Will there be chants for GM Glen Sather to bring him to New York? Or will there be boos?
Action is set to begin at 8 p.m. and, for the first time in nearly 7 weeks, will be televised on all cable providers following the settled dispute between Time Warner Cable and MSG.
Hockey This Week
Follow Jake on Twitter @jbecker591