The first month of the 2009-10 season is upon us, and OTG will be providing a game by game previews for each week as we go forward. Since the 2005-06 season, the Rangers have had mixed fortunes in the first month, yet made the playoffs each year. Last year they started well with a 10-2-1 record, but went just 33-28-8 the rest of the way before losing to Washington in seven games during the first round of the playoffs.
In 2007-08 they managed just a 4-6-1 record, but completed the rest of the season 17 games over .500. The previous two season went 5-6-0 and 6-4-3 respectively, both times making the playoffs.
For this year’s team, October will likely be a greater challenge for the team. Ten new faces will take the ice for the Rangers on opening night, including a projected three rookies and a forward corps that features four completely new lines. This also marks the first real test of John Totorella’s system, which was not put in place last season when he took over the Rangers from Tom Renney.
Friday October 2nd – at Pittsburgh Penguins
It’s not the ideal circumstances for sure. The Rangers come into Pittsburgh having lost their last five games at Mellon Arena, and not having won a regular season game in regulation dating back to January 19th, 2006. Maybe it’s a good idea that they’re tearing the place down.
To complicate matters for this encounter the Penguins are coming off a Stanley Cup winning season, and the visiting Rangers will have to wait through the lengthy pre-game ceremonies as the Penguins raise the banner to the rafters.
There’s an outside chance that Sidney Crosby might miss the game, and certainly the Penguins are a different team without him. Last year Crosby had 3 goals and 4 assists against the Rangers in six games, which is certainly better than Malkin’s 0 goals and 3 assists. But the focus will likely be at the other end of the ice, where Fleury finished the year with a 3-1-1 record against New York and respectable stats of 1.97 GAA and .939 Save Percentage…he only did better against the Islanders in the East.
For the Rangers, Lundqvist finished with a 3-3-0 record vs. the Penguins and disappointing figures of 2.77 GAA and .901 Save Percentage, but he does have a career 15-9-1 record against Pittsburgh and better stats too (2.26 and .931).
On offense, the Rangers really don’t have anyone on the roster that shows particular success against the Penguins. Sean Avery comes the closest with 3 goals and 5 assists in 10 games with the Rangers against this particular opponent, but he is unlikely to dress. Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky each have 3 goals a piece against Pittsburgh, but in 14 and 16 games respectively.
Saturday October 3rd – vs. Ottawa Senators
The Senators have been pretty much a bogey team for the Rangers in recent years, and last year’s 2-2-0 mark was somewhat unusual. Still close games are generally the case with these teams, with neither team scoring more than three goals in seven of their last nine match-ups.
This year the Rangers host Ottawa in the season home-opener. Ottawa looks a bit different without Dany Heatley and the inexperienced duo of Brian Elliot and Pascal Leclaire in net. Still we’re not talking about an easy win here. Both Elliot and Leclaire have shown promise, while there’s plenty of offensive potential with Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and now Jonathan Cheechoo on the roster.
For the Rangers, it’ll be an exciting night for several players who’ll be making their MSG debut. There’s possibly some added pressure to guys like Chris Higgins and Matt Gilroy, who’ll likely have plenty of personal support in the crowd, while rookies Artem Anisimov and Michael Del Zotto probably haven’t played in an arena like this yet in their careers.
Despite only having a career 5-9-0 record against the Senators, Lundqvist has surprisingly good 2.19 GAA and .925 Save Percentage. Not perhaps surprising then that the Rangers have only scored 15 goals in their last 9 match-ups.
Monday October 5th – at New Jersey Devils
The Rangers have had a good deal of success against the Devils since the lockout – last year’s 3-3-0 record aside. Leading the way has been the play of Henrik Lundqvist, who has a 15-6-1 record against the Devils in regular season games, as well 1.80 GAA and .935 Save Percentage.
On the offensive side, Chris Drury leads the team with 13 points in 14 games (5 goals and 8 assists), while Brandon Dubinsky (4 goals, 4 assists in 14 games) and Ryan Callahan (3 goals, 3 assists in 10 games) have also had some success.
The game also marks the first match-up between the team’s new (old) coaches. Jacques Lemaire returns to New Jersey after a decade or so with the Wild, and of course the Rangers brought back former assistant John Tortorella to coach their team late last year.
Both have had a lot of success in the league, and are personally familiar with the rivalry…even if Lemaire has the better record.
In terms of team make-up, the Rangers enter the game with yet another new look, while the Devils have continued the “build from within” approach. Gone are veterans (and former Rangers) Bobby Holik and Brendan Shanahan, as well as free agent Brian Gionta, but the core remains the same.
Thursday October 8th – at Washington Capitals
Washington has never really been a very hospital place for the Rangers, and this game will likely be no different. The Capitals opened up their season with an assertive 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins and have as much or more offensive firepower than any team in the East. Lead by youngsters Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, the team has added veteran leadership through the additions of Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison.
In goal, Simeon Varlamov dominated the Rangers in last year’s playoffs and the Rangers can only hope that they get to face “starter” Jose Theodore.
From the Rangers’ perspective, Chris Drury has averaged a point a game as a Ranger vs. the Caps (3-5-8 in 8 games), and Michal Rozsival has chipped in five goals in 16 games. Lundqvist has a solid 8-4-1 record, but an ordinary 2.77 GAA and .906 Save Percentage against Washington.
It’s a tough opening week for the Rangers, with only one home game, four games in seven nights and three of them against Stanley Cup playoff teams (including the eventual winner). It’s not out of the question that the team could lose all four games as they start the season, but we’re thinking they’ll pick up a win against the Senators and Devils and lose to the Penguins and Caps to finish 2-2-0 on the week.