New York Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning preview: Teams still sorting out issues early on – 10/29/2019

New York Rangers
The New York Rangers look to turn things around with some defensive stops Tuesday at Madison Square Garden vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Photo credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Almost a month into the NHL season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have identified one weakness, but haven’t been able to do anything about it. On the other hand, this iteration of the New York Rangers is still trying to learn what it really takes on a nightly basis.

Tampa Bay Lightning (-186) at New York Rangers (+155), Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The two get together for the first time this season Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and the team that identifies an answer to the problem coloring their efforts is likely to take home two points for their toil.

These squads are at different mile markers in more ways than one.

Anything less than a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals will be a plate of fail cake for Tampa Bay. Last season’s 62 wins, just the second time in league history a team has won 62 in the regular season, were rendered meaningless when the Lightning were swept out of the playoffs by Columbus in the first round.

New York is in rebuilding mode under second-year coach David Quinn. Its 32-36-14 record in Quinn’s first year looks like it could be repeated this season. Sunday night’s 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins at MSG dropped the Rangers to 3-5-1, and served as a reminder of how far the Rangers still need to come.

Center Mika Zibanejad, who started the season with 11 points in eight games, was knocked out after the first period with an upper-body injury following a Patrice Bergeron hit. Zibanejad is considered day-to-day. Quinn seemed to feel the same could be said of his team’s mindset.

“This game is all about what you can do when someone is trying to stop you from doing it,” he said. “Skill is certainly a huge component of this game, but if you have no battle in you, I don’t care how skilled you are, you’re not going to be productive.

“You’ve got to be able to make a play when someone is trying to stop you from doing it. And in turn, you better try to stop someone else from making a play. We didn’t have any of that tonight.”

New York Jets trade Leonard Williams to New York Giants

Hockey at the professional level can be a game of subtle felonies. The St. Louis Blues reminded one of that last spring during their run to the Stanley Cup. St. Louis played a physical style that didn’t exactly evoke memories of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, but also largely stayed out of the penalty box.

Tampa Bay isn’t built to play that way.

The Lightning have all the skill any team could want. Yet they have spent too much this month killing penalties and then pulling pucks from the back of its net while a man or two down.

Both realities intersected Saturday night in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators. Tampa Bay liked its 5-on-5 game, particularly when it controlled the second period and scored twice to take a 2-1 lead against its jinx team.

But the Lightning kept going to the box, and it eventually cost them. Ryan McDonagh took a minor for interference with just over five minutes left in regulation. Roman Josi wasted little time bombing home a point blast to equalize at 2.

Another minor, this time for too many men on the ice, gave the Predators an overtime power play. Four seconds after it ended, with coverages scrambled as the fourth skater tried to get into the play, Ryan Ellis wired the game-winner past Curtis McIlhinney.

“We’ve got to be smarter,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “We took some offensive zone penalties, some too many men penalties. Those are easy, easy fixes. We just have to dig deep a little bit and pay attention a little more to the details, and we’ll improve in those areas.”

Tampa Bay (5-3-2) goes into Tuesday night’s game ranked 24th in penalty minutes with 100 – exactly 10 per game – and 29th on the penalty kill at an anemic 69.4 percent. That looks worse when one considers the Lightning boasted the league’s best PK unit last season.

Coach Jon Cooper knows what his team must do.

“Can’t take five penalties,” he said. “And if you do, you’ve got to find a way to kill it off, especially the last one, the game-tying goal. You have to kill it off.”   

Note to readers: we may earn a commission from the offers and links on this page.