This Thursday the Rangers will finally get to do something they haven’t done so far this season – play a game on home ice. It’s been an up and down start to the season, but what could easily have been an unmitigated disaster has proven to be an above par showing.
In the seven games the Rangers have played to date, they’ve gone 3-2-2, to be a point over .500 and relatively well positioned for their ensuing six game homestand which include five teams with a record that is worse – on a points per game percentage – than the Rangers.
The lone exception is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who’ll join the Rangers for opening night on home ice. The Leafs have gotten off to a surprising 5-2-1 start thanks in large part to Phil Kessel and last year’s wunderkind in net, James Reimer.
Kessel has an incredible 15 points in his first 8 games, including 9 goals, while Riemer is 4-0-1 and is yet to lose in regulation. But once the Rangers get past the Leafs, they will square off against teams with a combined record of 13-21-3, and only one team – Anaheim 4-3-0 – with more wins than losses.
There’s points to be had, if only the Rangers can figure out their own offense. Henrik Lundqvist, and more recently Martin Biron, have both been stellar in net. The play of the netminders, perhaps the single biggest reason why the Rangers have any points, let alone the eight they garnered from their massive road trip.
This was particularly on display during their four game trip through Western Canada, when they outscored their opponents 9-5 while being outshot 130-95. The high shot total no doubt contributed to by the absence of Marc Staal and Mike Sauer – the latter set to return soon – and perhaps the lengthy travel.
As for the offense, it’s about getting a lead. The Rangers are 3-0-0 when scoring first, and 0-2-2 when the opposition scores. Slow starts have really hurt the Rangers, who are yet to lead a game after the first period.
Richards has kept the points ticking over by setting up Gaborik, while Stepan – who joined the line in game three, has shown promise, but is yet to show the finishing.
If the first line is only luke warm, then the second line is stone cold. Artem Anisimov has not translated his strong pre-season play into results to date, and both he and linemate Brandon Dubinsky are yet to score a goal. Anisimov has not been able to hold the puck in the offensive zone, and has generated few, if any real scoring chances. The strength on the puck has not been evident, and he’s not putting himself into a position to generate chances.
Dubinsky by contrast is perhaps trying to much, and needs to get back to simply putting the puck on the net. Ten shots in seven games is simply not enough, and he’s unlikely to turn things around for he and his linemates until he gets back to the basics.
As for the newly annointed captain, his 26 shots on net are second only to Gaborik – with 28 – but his intensity has not been as high since the opening game when he registered almost half his shot total to date. His two goals place him second on the team, and it’s hoped that last night’s fortunate deflection will help kickstarthis game.
On the third line, Ruslan Fedotenko surprisingly leads the team in points, and played perhaps his best game of the season in Winnipeg where he registered his first goal. Brandon Prust‘s two goals also has been a positive early in the season, though Brian Boyle will be disappointed with just one goal and eight shots on net.
Of the remaining forwards, the trio of Mats Zuccarello – since sent down – Wojtek Wolski and Erik Christensen have been disappointing. Mike Rupp actually has more goals than the three of them combined. despite playing three fewer games. Kris Newbury is a classic fourth liner but is not going to contribute many goals.
Defensively the Rangers need more puck possession to help rebalance the equation. That starts with staying out of the box like they did in Winnipeg, but it also means getting the forecheck and power plays going. Holding onto the puck, and getting offensive pressure will alleviate things at the other end of the ice. Lundqvist and Biron are not going to be able to keep this pace up all season, and will need to find a way to face fewer quality shots.
The return home will give the Rangers an added boost. They’ll finally get to sleep in their own beds, practice at the familiar Greenburgh facility and leverage the support of the home crowd. They’ll also get the last change for the first time this season, and finally begin getting into the normal swing of what to date has been a hectic season.