The vacation is over. The stretch drive starts now, and in grand fashion, with the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins coming to the Garden. Here are three factors to watch for when as the All-Star break ends.
Many Happy Returns
While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are expected to miss Tuesday night’s contest, the Rangers will get a boost from the return of Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi to the lineup. Callahan has been out with a broken hand since Dec. 15, fittingly suffered in a game against the Pens. The Rangers have gone 11-7-2 in his absence. How close will Callahan be to game speed? Will he be tentative to take the body or block a shot? My guess on the latter question is a pretty solid “no,” but it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to shake off the rust.
A Little Gab Will Do Ya
As discussed in the stretch-drive storylines post over the weekend, the Rangers could really use Marian Gaborik to be more consistent with his scoring. Ten of his 16 goals have come in just three games. And the Blueshirts could really use his production tonight against a Pittsburgh team that has doubled down on D after losing Crosby and Malkin to injury. The Pens have allowed just nine goals while winning five of their last six games.
The Freshman Wall
To borrow a college hoops term, it will be interesting to see how Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello respond down the stretch. The grind of the NHL season, along with the grinding style the Rangers employ, can certainly take its toll on rookies unaccustomed to playing an 82-game season. Stepan and Zuccarello were two of the Rangers’ most dynamic players in January with seven and 10 points respectively. Can they keep it up tonight and beyond?