The Ottawa Senators were not expected to do much this season. After missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons and barely changing the roster, the team put almost everything on new coach Guy Boucher.
So far, so good.
The Senators come to New York to face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night with a 20-11-3 mark and a four-game winning streak. They've done most of it without starting goaltender Craig Anderson, who has missed most of this month as he spends time with his cancer-stricken wife.
Although the Senators sit in a playoff spot as they reach the halfway point, Boucher wants more.
"We want to do better," he said. "We want to keep growing. We want to make those playoffs. We can't let down. The guys know that. Since Day 1 there hasn't really been a long letdown. We had a game and a half drift. The rest I think we've done really good. I've been really impressed with the dedication of the players."
Backup goaltender Mike Condon, who was acquired in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins in November, is 8-3-2 with a .922 save percentage with the Senators. He hasn't been as strong since taking over for Anderson at the beginning of the December, but Condon is 6-2-2 with a .916 save percentage in 11 appearances this month.
"What you're asking for (from Condon) is to be good enough to give us a chance to win and we're not asking for shutouts every game," Boucher said to the Ottawa Citizen earlier this month. "He has done that for us. It has been quite an addition to our team. It has made a big difference for us."
The Rangers are coming out of their holiday break with more questions in net than Ottawa.
Henrik Lundqvist is still the No. 1 for the Rangers, even after he was benched for four straight games in favor of Antti Raanta. He returned and played well in three consecutive starts, allowing three goals in three wins, but delivered one of his worst performances in a 7-4 home loss to the Minnesota Wild on Friday.
Lundqvist allowed four goals on 13 shots and was pulled early in the second period for Raanta. The leash could be getting shorter, as Lundqvist has an uncharacteristically low .915 save percentage this season.
"The first one (goal) -- bad goal," Lundqvist said. "The fourth one, I have to try more to be in good position on that; it's a hard shot. They just took advantage of some breakdowns. Personally, I have to play more on my toes. But I'm not going to blame anything; I just have to find a way to be more on my toes in a game like this."
The Rangers lost their last two games before the break by a combined 14-6 and are 10-8-1 in their past 19 games after starting the season 13-4-0. An offense that was once scoring more than four goals per game is averaging just 2.25 per game over their past 16 contests.
If anyone needed the long weekend to get away from the game, it was the Rangers. They'll be greeted on home ice by one of the hottest teams in the league.
"It stings right now the way that our last two games have gone," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "Obviously we enjoy family time and whatnot with Christmas, but at the end of the day we're professionals here. We want to take pride in our job and focus on what we can do individually to be better coming back here after this break. We've got a lot of games again right in a row and we have the opportunity after the break to start off on a good foot at home. We definitely need to respond here."
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