New York Rangers-Florida Panthers: The Start of a Tough Stretch for the Rangers

Rob CristinoCorrespondent INovember 21, 2009

BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 18:  Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers makes a save against the Buffalo Sabres  at HSBC Arena  on November 18, 2009 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The New York Rangers (11-9-1) continue their three-game homestand on Saturday night in a matchup against the Florida Panthers (9-9-2).

Though this game doesn’t have the makings to become the Game of the Week, that doesn’t mean it’s not an important game for the Blueshirts. The Rangers have had a difficult stretch in November, struggling to put together any type of winning streak.

In fact, the Rangers haven’t put together back-to-back victories since Oct. 14 (4-2 win over the L.A. Kings) and Oct. 17 (4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs), the last two victories from the Rangers' 7-1 start to the 2009-10 season.

Since that seven-game win streak has come to an end, the Rangers have gone just 4-8-1, worrying many Rangers fans in the process.

Was the 7-1 start to the 2009-10 season too good to be true, similar to the 10-2-1 start during the 2008-09 season? Or are the Rangers simply in a rut that will eventually fix itself?

Head coach John Tortorella has said he wants his team to play more consistently, which has been one of biggest issues with the Rangers through the first 21 games of the season.

Saturday night's matchup against the Panthers could be the game that will put the Rangers back on the right track, but it won't be easy.

Though Florida is second to last in the Southeast Division, don’t let their record fool you. They have been a much better team as of late, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games.

Through 20 games, the Panthers have been in overtime or a shootout seven times, including three straight shootouts before beating the Buffalo Sabres 6-2 this past Wednesday.

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On Friday night, the Panthers beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in overtime with the help of backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen and Bryan McCabe's game-winner just 40 seconds into overtime.

The Panthers have been led by centers Steve Reinprecht and Nathan Horton. Reinprecht leads Florida in goals (nine) and is tied for the lead in points (16) and has also contributed seven assists, while Horton is tied for the lead in points and leads the Panthers in assists (nine), while netting five goals.

This game could go either way.

It will be the start of a tough stretch for the Blueshirts, as New York will play six games in 10 days. It could prove to be even more difficult if Marian Gaborik continues to be the only consistent player on the ice for New York. Gaborik has eight points in his last five games, leading the Rangers with 15 goals and 27 points.

The Rangers will close out this three-game homestand, which has already gotten off to a rocky start, by hosting the rolling Columbus Blue Jackets (12-6-2) on Monday night.

"We’re 21 games into it, it's way too early to look at standings," Tortorella said in an interview with Andrew Gross. "Having said that, we need to answer. We need to play more consistently, especially at home. When you have three of them at home and you lose that first one, you want to come back with a good effort and that's what we're looking to do."

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