Senators-Rangers Preview

The Associated Press

The New York Rangers are the hottest team in the NHL, and success at Madison Square Garden is one reason why.

The Ottawa Senators aren't very far off, and they've been rather comfortable when visiting the Big Apple.

The Rangers look to extend a pair of winning streaks to six games by beating the Senators at home for the first time in five tries Thursday night.

New York (27-9-4) hits the midway point of its schedule atop the NHL with 58 points, the team's best start since 1993-94 when it went on to win its last Stanley Cup.

The Rangers' ascent in the standings has been aided by a 13-3-2 home record that includes five straight wins after beating Phoenix 2-1 in a six-round shootout Tuesday. That victory was also their fifth in a row overall and 10th in the last 11 contests.

"It starts with the locker room," coach John Tortorella said of New York's success. "It's a tight group and I just think they believe they can get things done. We're going to lose some games, but I think they'll play the right way. We've done a really good job of not beating ourselves."

The Senators (23-15-6) have done that for the Rangers, going 10-1-1 in their last 12 games at MSG. They continued that dominance Oct. 29, beating New York 5-4 in a shootout to extend their winning streak there to four games.

Ottawa enters this meeting on a 6-0-1 run after winning 5-1 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

"They're hot. They have a lot of skill up front," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "Probably some of the more lethal forwards in the league for sure with (Jason) Spezza and (Daniel) Alfredsson, some good 'D' that can really skate and a goalie that is playing well. It's going to be a good challenge."

Ottawa is also expected to have Erik Karlsson back from an upper-body injury that sidelined him Tuesday. The league's highest scoring defenseman at 41 points, Karlsson has three assists in two season meetings with the Rangers.

"Erik will be fine," coach Paul MacLean told the team's official website. "That's my expectation now, that he should play (Thursday)."

Milan Michalek has three goals against the Rangers this season, getting two before scoring the only tally in the shootout at the Garden in October.

Success on the road has been common for the left wing, as he's totaled 15 of his team-leading 22 goals as the visitor. He has nine goals in the past eight road contests after netting two against the Penguins.

Spezza is the team's top scorer with 44 points and is on his own scoring surge with three goals and three assists in his last five games. The center had two points in the last visit to New York.

The Rangers figure to turn to Henrik Lundqvist in net after he needed 18 saves through overtime and three more in the shootout Tuesday to win a seventh straight start. He has a 1.13 goals-against average and one shutout in that stretch, and a 1.48 GAA while going 9-2-1 at home since making 40 saves in the loss to Ottawa earlier this season.

Lundqvist has lost four in a row at home to Ottawa despite a 1.94 GAA. However, he had 29 saves while Marian Gaborik scored twice in a 3-2 road win Nov. 9.

Gaborik, the Rangers' leader with 23 goals, has three goals and two assists against the Senators this season.

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