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Rangers begin 4-game trip with visit to Vegas

Jan 16, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers right wing Blake Wheeler (17) celebrates his empty net goal against the Seattle Kraken with defenseman Adam Fox (23) and left wing Chris Kreider (20) and center Mika Zibanejad (93) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of back-to-back wins over the Washington Capitals and Seattle Kraken, the New York Rangers begin a four-game road trip against the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

The Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers, who are 13-7-2 on the road, will also visit California for a weekend back-to-back against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks before finishing the trip at San Jose on Tuesday. It’s part of a stretch that sees New York play five of six games on the road heading into the All-Star Game break and bye week.

“It’s a tough road trip,” center Mika Zibanejad said after collecting two assists in New York’s 5-2 victory over the Kraken on Tuesday. “Good teams that we’re going to play, so we’ve just got to be ready for the first one.”

The Rangers will have a little momentum with them after rebounding from a four-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over the Capitals, then defeating Seattle two days later.

Forward Artemi Panarin, who had a goal in the win over Washington and assisted on Vincent Trocheck’s opening goal against the Kraken, became the fifth player in the NHL to hit the 60-point mark this season. New York goalie Igor Shesterkin stopped 53 of 56 shots in the two victories.

“He was really good,” Rangers coach Peter Laviolette said after Shesterkin made 29 saves against Seattle. “They’re a rush team, they generate a lot off the rush. … You need your goaltender to make big saves like he did tonight.”

New York appears to be catching Vegas at the right time. The Golden Knights, who began the season with a 12-game point streak (11-0-1), are just 4-8-0 over their last 12 games. Vegas has had to deal with key injuries to starting goalie Adin Hill (lower body), defenseman Shea Theodore (out since November after undergoing surgery for an upper-body injury), steady two-way center William Karlsson (lower body) and forward Jack Eichel (lower body).

Eichel, named to the All-Star team on Jan. 4, leads the team with 19 goals and shares the club lead with 44 points. He sustained what appeared to be a minor left leg injury in the Golden Knights’ 2-1 overtime win over the Boston Bruins on Jan. 11 when he was hipchecked along the right boards by former Boston University teammate Matt Grzelcyk.

Eichel, who lost a skate blade on the hit and had to be helped back to the bench before continuing straight back to the locker room, returned to score a goal but said he felt sore the next day. He missed the Golden Knights’ 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday and 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators on Monday.

The team announced Tuesday that Eichel was “week-to-week” after undergoing successful lower-body surgery.

“He will miss a little bit of time, but I don’t know how much time,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Obviously not good news for us, or Jack.”

Vegas captain Mark Stone led the way in the win against the Predators with the first regular-season hat trick of his career. Stone has had two hat tricks in the playoffs, including the Game 5 clincher against the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final last June.

“A good team win,” Stone said of the victory over Nashville. “I’m not going to be Jack Eichel. Whoever is not going to be Shea Theodore. You’ve just got to be the best version of yourself, play that team game. We’ve had different guys step up at different times, for sure. You’ve just got to play your game. I was just fortunate enough to be in shooting spots tonight.”

The Thursday contest is the first of two games between the teams over an eight-day span. The Rangers swept the two meetings last season, outscoring the Golden Knights 9-2.

–Field Level Media

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