As Ranger fans we take just about every game as a life and death type experience, we pack the Garden even for preseason games, but the pageantry of the home opener still makes it a special game to experience. Even though we are two games into the year, with the spacing in the schedule it feels like the season is starting again with the opener tonight against Toronto. For the fans the opening ceremonies will bring back the good memories of what a new season can mean, and Ranger fans ever the optimists always believe this is the year. As I said, every game for Ranger fans every game is like a life and death experience and it is never more telling than listening after a game to their views on the team. When the team wins it means the Stanley Cup is getting hoisted and when they lose it means everyone in power should get hoisted on a sword, there just is no middle ground.
Analysis of teams and situations after the jump
I am sure all of those sentiments are true for another fan crazed team in Toronto. Last year the thought after about the fifth game of that horrific campaign waged by the Maple Leafs was just hoping for it to end and start over this year. I am sure there are plenty of times where they wondered if Brian Burke was the right guy for them, especially when it turned out trading for Phil Kessel and still finishing with the 2nd worst record in the league meant Tyler Seguin was a Bruin and not a Leaf. At least 3 games into the year, the Toronto fans have something to be both hopeful and excited about as the Leafs enter the Garden at 3-0, where last year it took them until November 7th a year ago to win their 3rd game. For 3 games at least Brian Burke’s plan seems to have them heading in the right direction.
As Ranger fans we know that hot starts do not always materialize into anything in the long run, but that does not mean the Rangers should take this team lightly at all. This team is built in the way that Brian Burke loves to build teams and while he might not have all the pieces to implement his six scorers as his top 6 and six role players on the bottom 6 along with a physical solid D, the early product plays in that mode. They feature a top line with Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg, while having a second line of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. MacArthur has been on fire to start the year with 4 goals and 1 assist in the 3 games. MacArthur joined the Leafs after Atlanta walked away from his arbitration ruling and to this point Toronto has benefited greatly. The Leafs also sport a very good defense core lead by Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle (yes, he still hasn’t been traded). Along with those two bigger names there is Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin rounded out by Mike Komisarek and Carl Gunnarsson. In the net I would expect to see Jean-Sebastien Giguere who has been very good in his opening two starts, but enough about Toronto.
At 1-1 the Rangers will be looking to bounce back from the disappointing close of Monday’s game against the rival Islanders. Good news for the Rangers is they will be welcoming back their Captain Chris Drury who missed the first two games with a broken finger. He is slated to step into the first line center position between Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik, along with taking on his normal duties of being a main penalty killer, with no real word yet on his power play role. Along with Drury into the lineup, Matt Gilroy will be making his season debut on the 3rd defensive pair as he is slated to play alongside Steve Eminger, while Michael Sauer who played in the first two will be scratched. The only question mark in the lineup is whether or not Erik Christensen will play and if he does who on the 4th line would be scratched, but I think they are going to hold Christensen out to see what the lineup does and give his leg a few more days to heal since they are off until Monday vs Colorado.
The Rangers offense has been very good in the two games, even though the presumed two leading scorers Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov have yet to light the lamp. The goal scoring lead is being shared by Brandon Dubinsky and rookie Derek Stepan with 3 apiece. The chemistry of the 2nd and 3rd lines has left John Tortorella famous for his willingness to change lines even mid shift hesitant to mess with anything which is why Drury is being slotted on the top line. In my opinion without question the best line has been that of Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan and they will need that line to continue to play at that level in this game, while all eyes will be on how Drury handles being back in the lineup and given the opportunity to play with the top line. I am sure plenty of eyes will be on the home debut of Derek Stepan but I wouldn’t count on an encore of his debut vs Buffalo.
On the defensive side there are questions following the last game, and at the moment it feels like there are going to be constant questions regarding the 3rd pair all year. We know what we are getting from Marc Staal on the defensive side, Michael Del Zotto on the offensive side and the rest seems to be somewhat come and go, play it by ear. With Tortorella’s prior hesitance to play either Del Zotto or Gilroy on the penalty kill it will be interesting to see which of those two and/or Steve Eminger is used as the 2nd pair killing penalties. Expect as always that Henrik Lundqvist will be the one in-between the pipes.
Keys to the game:
Keep shot totals low: Averaging giving up 23.7 shots per game (2nd fewest in NHL)
Stay out of penalty box: Only given up 10 penalties in 3 games
Top line must show up: Kessel-Bozak-Versteeg were very average vs Pitt, look for bounceback
DEFEND HOME ICE
Continue fore-checking/crashing the net
Keep shooting at every opportunity
Don’t panic with puck in own end
Getting Frolov and Gaborik some goals