Many preseason prognosticators predicted that the aging New York Rangers may be in danger of a serious dropoff this season. So far, the men from MSG have proven them wrong, as their home-heavy schedule has gotten them off to a 5-2-0 start.
Unsurprisingly, the key to their success has been starting netminder Henrik Lundqvist, who has allowed just over two goals per game in his six starts. Throw in the fantastic early returns from the signing of free agent college player Jimmy Vesey (four goals, one assist), and the Rangers are off to their best seven game start since the 2009-2010 season.
As much as Lundqvist means to this roster, and to the New York faithful, the true story for the Rangers in the beginning of this season has been their goal-scoring. They currently have netted 27 goals in 7 games, good for fifth most in the league. They trail only the Canadiens, who have played one more game, by just two goals. As with most good goal-scoring teams, they’ve accomplished this with a balanced attack that has spread the points around.
In fact, the Rangers already have nine different players who have tallied two or more goals. Compare that to the Hurricanes, who only have seven players who have even scored one goal, and you can see that the Rangers’ offense is really clicking on all cylinders.
Coming into tonight’s Hurricanes home opener, the Rangers will once again be without one of their most impactful forwards as Chris Kreider is slated to miss his third straight game. Kreider was off to a fast start with seven points in the opening five games of the season, but has been out the past two games with a neck injury. As discussed by center Derek Stepan, the team’s scoring depth will continue to play a huge role in the Rangers’ success in Kreider’s absence.
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has stressed that his team is in need of a better start, as in the past three games, all victories, his team has conceded the first goal and fell behind by two goals in two of the three games. (Sound familiar?)
Traditionally, the Rangers have been a team that tried to start well and then used their size and strength (as well as their solid goaltending) to lean on opponents the rest of the way. So far this season, with a younger roster on display, the speed and skill elements of the team have been more evident.
What to Watch For
- Lundqvist is expected to make the start in goal for the Rangers tonight. He is 23-10-1 in 34 career games vs. Carolina.
- Expect 21-year-old Russian Pavel Buchnevich back in the lineup tonight in Raleigh. The rookie has been sidelined with back spasms since game two of the season.
- The 8th-ranked power play and 10th-best penalty kill have each been strengths so far for the Rangers. The Canes will need to continue their own solid performance on special teams to overcome the Rangers’ strengths.
- Jimmy Vesey will play his first game in Raleigh tonight. Drafted in 2015 by the Nashville Predators, he spurned the Preds following his college season at Harvard, and subsequently his rights were traded in June to the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres tried, but failed, to sign him prior to the August 15th deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent. He signed with the Rangers on August 19th and has gotten off to a wonderful start in the infancy of his NHL career.
- With the balanced scoring exhibited by the Rangers all season, and with Krieder out of the lineup, the biggest question for Bill Peters is who to match the Canes’ “shutdown” line, centered by Jordan Staal, up with on the other side of the ice.