Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rangers Week Ahead Starting 11-15-2010; Penguins + Bruins + an Avalache = a Wild Week

With all the activity regarding the brawl and Erik Christensen’s comments the Week Ahead kind of got pushed to the back burner and I held back posting in, but I didn’t want to lose what was supposed to be the story of the day about Rangers getting balanced scoring, so Week Ahead ended up on Tuesday after a game already gone.  Will have more new material throughout the day. So here it is as it should have been posted before yesterday’s game with Pittsburgh, you can skip the Penguins piece if you like.

The Rangers are entering the week on a high note with two straight home wins to get to 9-7-1 overall and with the return of their star offensive player they are feeling pretty good about themselves.  The expectation is the other major star on the team, Henrik Lundqvist, will be back from his two game absence against the Penguins and it will be another step towards getting the team to full strength.  The schedule this week looks very tough with a game at Pittsburgh, a home game against a very good Boston Bruins team and then a trip towards the West with games at Colorado and at Minnesota back to back.

This week the Rangers will be at home for all three including Tuesday against Washington, Thursday against Buffalo and Sunday against Tom Renney’s Edmonton Oilers.  The Rangers are coming off a week in which they alternated wins and losses and only had one real good outing in my opinion.  They will look to right the ship both in terms of getting back on the winning track and being better at home this week.  At first glance the game vs Washington is obviously the toughest with the other two seeming very winnable, but as we have seen with the Rangers they love nothing more than to make a winnable game difficult.
Monday 11/15 at Pittsburgh (9-8-1)*
The Rangers will make their first trip to the new arena in Pittsburgh and when they do they know it will take not only their best game on the ice, but a great deal of composure to deal with outside issues if they want the win.  The return of Henrik Lundqvist should certainly help the chances of the club, but if they think the game they played against a lower quality opponent like Edmonton will get them two points against Pittsburgh they will be in for a rude awakening.  With the way Orpik has played Marian Gaborik in the past the Rangers offense is probably going to have to come from other sources, but luckily for the Rangers they are going up against goaltending that has been very shaky at times this season.  On defense the burden will come down to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi predominantly, especially on the penalty kill.  The Rangers PK has been better of late but it has not faced a set of talent as it will in this game, other than maybe Washington.  It will take a complete team effort on the PK of Callahan, Dubinsky, Boyle, Prust, Staal, Girardi, Eminger, Sauer and whomever else is out there because you can bet the Pens will get some calls.  Expect lots of shots from the Pens and Hank will have to return in top form if they want points.  The obvious guys to watch for the Penguins are Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Gologoski.  The best news for the Rangers might be their 5-2 road record against the 3-5 home record for the Penguins.
Wednesday 11/17 vs Boston (8-5-1)* 
The Rangers played the Bruins already once this season up in Boston and came away with a 3-2 winning in a very feisty contest.  In that game Lundqvist continued his excellent play against the Bruins improving to a stellar 14-4-2 with a 1.42 GAA and .946 SV% career.  Those numbers are absolutely ridiculous and with the way Tim Thomas is playing this year Henrik will need to be that good again to beat the Bruins who will bring a 6-1 road record to the Garden on Wednesday.  The Bruins have cooled off lately because the offense has struggled with the absence of David Krejci to a concussion which has only added to the loss of Marc Savard also with a concussion.  Neither is expected back in time for the game on Wednesday.
The offense is being carried by Nathan Horton who must be ecstatic to be out of Florida and Milan Lucic.  Horton in the first meeting had a goal and an assist so I would expect to see a lot of Marc Staal on Horton Wednesday.  When a team is struggling to generate offense the key for the opposition is to stay out of the box and not let the man advantage generate chances for them.  The Bruins PP has been pretty good this season and when you have Horton and Chara’s bombs you never want to be a man down.  For the Rangers on offense this will be the first game in which the Dubinsky-Anisimov-Callahan line will play against a team where it was the first line in the prior meeting but now gets to play against the second line and second defensive pair.  I would expect for them to get some things going especially if Gaborik is going to be shadowed by Chara all night.  I would also watch to see if there might be some sort of retribution from the Bruins on Dubinsky for his slash that broke Johnny Boychuk’s forearm.  This game will also be the debut of Heritage jersey’s.
Friday 11/19 at Colorado (8-7-1)*
The Rangers already played the Avalanche this season, falling 3-1 in the Garden when Chris Stewart really dominated the Rangers defense physically and would score two power play goals.  Stewart is in the middle of taking another step towards superstar status with his tremendous start to the season and he will be the key matchup for the Rangers defensively.  The physical play Marc Staal has exhibited lately will be very much needed if they are to contain this power forward on Friday.  Stewart is certainly not the only threat for the Avalanche as he is aided by Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Matt Duchene and a career start for John-Michael Liles.  Offensively is where this Colorado team makes it mark as they are in the top 5 in goals and top 10 in PP effectiveness so the Ranger defense and goaltending will certainly be put to the test.  In goal the Avalanche lost Craig Anderson to a knee injury just over two weeks ago and while he hasn’t been spectacular Peter Budaj has been very good in certain games and his offense has carried him in some others over this stretch.  If the Rangers can slow down the Colorado offense and get some power plays they should have every chance in this game as the Colorado PK has been awful so far this season.
Saturday 11/20 at Minnesota (8-6-1 )
On Saturday the Rangers will be in Minnesota to take on Mikko Koivu, Nicklas Backstrom and the Wild.  The Wild have been very good at home this season sporting a 5-3-1 mark to this point.  The key for the Wild as any team that might possess less overall talent than their opponent’s is to dominate in the specialty teams.  The Wild are currently sporting the league’s best PP and 7th best penalty kill, which is critical when you don’t have a big time goal scorer on your club.  The offense is led by Mikko Koivu who many Rangers fans would kill to have in a Blueshirts sweater, but as I said the goal scoring itself is very spread around as they do not have a guy with more than 6 on the season, but have eight guys with at least 3 tallies.  For the Wild to be successful long term Martin Havlat will have to live up to his potential and score some goals.  In this game the Wild need their specialty teams, more tremendous goaltending from Nicklas Backstrom (7-4-2 1.98GAA .937SV%) and to continue their dominance in the faceoff circle.
Overall Thoughts
Conventional thinking says since the Rangers are on a high they are due for a low spot, while fan thinking says they will never lose another game.  I am going to split the difference as I think they pull it out against Pittsburgh, fall to Boston and then get at least one of the two on the trip.
Keys to Week:
  • A key for every game this week will be to stay out of the box as they are playing a series of teams that rely on the power play to generate their offense.  They are also playing against a few teams that are not good on PK so if they can work the cycle and draw penalties it will certainly help the results
  • The Rangers faceoff issues could loom large this week at least against Pittsburgh and Minnesota as Crosby and Koivu can dominate the circle.
  • General key is for the Rangers to continue the hard working play that kept them afloat while Gaborik was out and not rely on his skill especially coming off a game where he was in top form with the hat-trick
*denotes records are as of games completed 11/14/2010