It's a busy Saturday for three of our Battle clubs and it gets started now when the Devils renew the I-95 rivalry with the hated Flyers. Seventeen points separate them but when these teams get together, anything's possible. Hasan is at The Rock. Hope he gets a pleasant surprise. Especially without Patrik Elias, whose wife went into labor. Can the Devs cool off the Flyers?
Also in action six hours later are the Sabres, who are gunning for two in a row following their 3-1 home win over the Maple Leafs. Thomas Vanek continues to swing a hot stick netting his ninth and Ryan Miller returned from a groin injury to stop 35 shots, improving to 23-8-0 with a 2.19 GAA and a .931 save percentage against his favorite opponent. It should be even tougher when they visit the Bell Centre to battle the first place Canadiens, who should be steamed following a home loss to the Predators in a rare Alex Auld cameo. Carey Price has been awesome this season, making Hab fans forget Jaroslav Halak. It could be a battle of elite in net if Miller gets two straight starts. Does Buffalo have what it takes to get the better of Les Habitants?
Meanwhile, the Rangers conclude their three-game road trip with a visit to Music City to take on those Predators. After a good start, Barry Trotz' club has slipped to last in the ultra competitive Central. Eight points separate them from first place Detroit. They do it by committee with Cal O'Reilly pacing them with 13 points while more familiar names Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist follow suit. They've gotten strong play from Marcel Goc but key cogs Shea Weber and J.P. Dumont have struggled as have second-year center Colin Wilson and Martin Erat. Both Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback are capable of shutting it down in net. Considering the Rangers don't have a lot of success in Nashville, figure it to be tough with this being the second of a back-to-back. An area our team has excelled at. Can they follow up Henrik Lundqvist's bounce back 40 save performance in a 3-0 shutout over the Panthers with another 'W,' to return home 2-1 before the hated Pens visit Monday?
In yesterday's win, Derek Stepan continued his surge, scoring his sixth goal off a Sean Avery rebound, extending to a six-game point streak (3-4-7). Since Nov.14, the rookie pivot has nine points (3-6-9) over the last eight, putting himself right back into the Calder race. The former Badger has become the No.1 center. No easy task at the age of 20, fitting in with Marian Gaborik and new linemate Brandon Dubinsky. The Rangers would like to see more goals off Gabby's stick with the star right wing silent in five. Since his hat trick against the Oilers, he's scored only once over seven. Meanwhile, demoted linemate Alex Frolov is in John Tortorella's dog house, getting only nine minutes Friday. While the enigmatic Russian baffles, Ryan Callahan finally ended a five-game drought with a nifty deflection of a Erik Christensen pass for a power play tally. Also encouraging was seeing Brandon Prust get rewarded for all his hard work when he scored his first of the season shorthanded, beating Scott Clemmensen through the wickets.
The Rangers could use Arty Anisimov to reappear on the score sheet. He's been blank in three and only has a goal over seven. Tort flipped him with Brian Boyle, who took over the second line.
Updating injuries, Michal Rozsival might return tonight after skating this morning. Who he replaces remains a question. Probably Matt Gilroy even though I think he's looked better. Derek Boogaard also skated.
Thus far, the Devils on an Adam Mair goal are surprising the Flyers 1-0. They're playing a man short minus Elias. Brian Boucher has been busy making nine saves while Johan Hedberg has stopped all four. They lead by a goal with 7:14 left in the first. We'll have updates on everything later. Headed over to John's for some puck in South River. Catch ya later.