Thursday, December 21, 2006

Game Preview: Rangers at Florida, 7:30 ET on MSG

The Rangers will try to snap their three-game losing streak by starting a four-game road trip with their first stop in Florida to face the Panthers. Despite once again being shorthanded, this is a game they should win. So will they even though it looks like Michael Nylander and Henrik Lundqvist won't be available? Who knows. This team is schizo and you can never tell if they're going to bring their 'A' game. Somehow, their 40 points still lead the Atlantic. But they have played two more games than the Devils (39 pts) and three better than the Islanders (37). So it's imperative that Tom Renney's club show signs of life no matter who is out.

Expect Brad Isbister to make his Ranger debut. As discussed in our last entry, I was befuddled by his recall from Hartford in place of prospect Ryan Callahan. I'm going to be positive in this entry by bringing to light what Isbister can bring to this soft bunch. First off, he has size (6-4, 224). It's whether he actually uses it which will be the the key. It's not like Isbister isn't capable. This guy once scored over 20 goals for the Islanders and racked up 100 penalty minutes three times in his career. He also will go to the net. The other area he can help is in team toughness. Isbister has never shied away from dropping the gloves. On a team that rarely sticks up for each other, that can only be positive. So will Isbister play to capability or continue what's been a very disappointing career? We'll see.

Series info: This is the final meeting of the season between the Blueshirts and Panthers. Florida took the first game 4-2 on October 25 at MSG while New York responded with a 4-3 shootout win at BankAtlantic Center on November 8 and a 2-1 win at MSG December 10. If the Rangers prevail tonight, they'll own the season series.

Series History: All-time, the Rangers own a 30-18-6-2 record against Florida, including 15-9-2-2 on the road. Really though, does anyone like these four columns? It's so confusing. Thanks Bettman!

Newsworthy: The Rangers will get center Matt Cullen back for this game. The second line pivot missed the past couple of games with a knee sprain. If Renney was smart, he'd reunite Cullen with Jarkko Immonen and Brendan Shanahan. But with Nylander out, look for that unit of Shanahan-Straka-Jagr to be together instead. So who will Immonen and Cullen play with? Petr Prucha??? We'll see...Florida enters play 14th in the East with a 12-18-6 record (30 pts). They're led by team captain Olli Jokinen. As usual, one of the game's most overlooked No.1 centers is having an All Star season with a team-leading 14 goals, 22 assists and 36 points. There's nothing he can't do. Too bad he plays on Florida. The Panthers are coming off a 7-3 rout of Toronto which included two goals from gritty vet Gary Roberts. It was their second straight win.

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