Big Story: The Rangers are still tops in the overall standings, but they're not playing with the consistency they were showing earlier in the season — and they paid the price for being sloppy in Tuesday's 4-1 loss at New Jersey. They'd better not be sloppy against the Senators, who come home after a 7-3 win in Tampa Bay on Tuesday and are one of the NHL's best offensive teams.
Rangers: New York has relied a lot on its goaltending, particularly all-star Henrik Lundqvist, in the last couple of weeks to erase mistakes. But even Lundqvist couldn't bail out his teammates in New Jersey — turnovers led to Ilya Kovalchuk's goal 49 seconds into the game and Ryan Carter's backbreaker early in the third period.
"We gathered ourselves in the second period ... but then there were just some details, some turnovers that were just ridiculous that cost us the game," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
The Rangers are giving Lundqvist the night off in Ottawa, turning to Martin Biron as their starter in goal.
Senators: Milan Michalek got one of the easier hat tricks in NHL history on Tuesday night as the Senators completed a sweep of their season series in Tampa. After scoring a power-play goal midway through the third period to put Ottawa ahead 5-3, he hit the empty net twice and now has 32 goals for the season, six more than his previous career best.
"That's great for him," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "I think he's always been a player of that potential and the injuries that he's had kind of slowed him down. We're really happy for him. To reach that plateau, it's really a credit to him and his hard work."
Michalek became only the third player in NHL history to record a hat trick that included two empty-net goals. The others? Mario Lemieux and Marcel Dionne, both Hockey Hall of Famers.
Who's Hot: Marian Gaborik, the Rangers' leader in goals (32) and points (58), has three goals and five points in his last four games … Michalek has four goals in his last three games.
Injury Report: The Rangers are healthy except for defenceman Michael Sauer, who's been out since mid-December with a concussion … Ottawa is missing starting goaltender Craig Anderson with a lacerated hand. Centre Peter Regin (shoulder surgery) is out for the season; forward Jesse Winchester is skating again but hasn't played since Dec. 21 due to a concussion.
Stat Pack: Despite leading the overall standings, the Rangers are 29th on the power play at just 14.3 per cent … New York has points in all 29 games in which it has taken a lead into the third period, going 26-0-3. One of those games was the shootout loss to Ottawa in October.
Puck Drop: Though the Rangers were 4-0-2 before Tuesday, they knew they weren't playing as well as they had during the hot streak that carried them to the top of the NHL standings.
"It's us. We can control this. We might not win every game, but we can control how we play," center Brad Richards said after Tuesday's game. "Sometimes you have to realize you aren't rolling along playing perfect hockey. It's good we've been getting wins, but this might be a good wakeup call. We're not where we need to be or want to be."