Remember the dreadful 3-6 road stretch that opened the season, when the Rangers were outscored 32-15?
That ship has been righted. In fact, a victory in Tampa on Monday night would extend their win streak away from home to seven games, the longest in the NHL this season.
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The offense hasn't exactly exploded, but the defense has tightened immensely. In 15 of the last 18 games, including Saturday's 2-0 whitewash of the Predators in Nashville, the Blueshirts (12-11) have allowed two goals or fewer.
"Their three top defensemen are really good," Predators coach Barry Trotz said, "and the group of six played really well. They had good gaps, they had really good structure and they didn't allow us to generate a whole lot."
Ryan McDonagh, who played 25:58, in all situations, and scored the game-winner on a deflection, credited the forwards as well.
"We had good back pressure and good long shifts in the O-zone where we wore them out," McDonagh said. "They didn't have a lot of speed going through the neutral zone, so we were able to stay up pretty good for the most part."
Henrik Lundqvist, who has a 2.00 goals-against average in his last four starts, will be back in the net against Tampa, which is coming off an 0-3-1 road trip and is without star forward Steven Stamkos (broken tibia). But the Lightning (14-8-1) has scored 67 goals to the Rangers' 48, and are 8-2-0, including six in a row, at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
It could turn out that whichever team scores first will win the first of three games scheduled between these clubs. The Rangers are 11-1 when scoring first, third in the NHL; the Lightning is fourth at 10-1.
Surprisingly, the Rangers are putting more shots on goal per game than Tampa, 31.8 to 28, and the power plays are almost even, with an 18.4-percent success rate for the Rangers and 17.9 percent for the Lightning. Tampa is averaging 2.78 goals to the Rangers 2.09.
Notes & quotes: Taylor Pyatt, out with a concussion since Nov. 7, has been skating on his own in New York and met the team in Tampa on Sunday. It is unclear whether he will practice with the team Monday or Tuesday . . . The next stops on this five-game trip are Sunrise, Fla., to face the Panthers on Wednesday and a matinee in Boston on Friday.