Gone are the reliable and trustworthy games of Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Kevin Klein and the very capable Henrik Lundqvist backup, Antti Raanta. Very important parts of a recent winning culture, but when the team isn’t the last one standing, changes are inevitable. As they say, close counts only in grenades and horseshoes!
So, we welcome aboard Kevin Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, David Desharnais, Paul Carey, Ondrej Pavelec and the very young Filip Chytil. To varying degrees of importance, all should have definitive roles, as the NHL continues to get younger, more skilled and definitely faster.
It is an incredibly long regular season journey to the springtime when the pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup officially begins. The 82-game schedule will produce highs and experience lows. It is important to minimize the lows and get out any funk as quickly as possible. Ten of the first 13 games will be played at The Garden and establishing a home-ice aura early should help the overall cause.
[Coverage of the Rangers Season-Opener Starts Tonight at 6 PM on MSG and MSG GO]
Keys As We Start
We have seen up close and personal, how this franchise has ridden the shoulders of Lundqvist for the first 12 years of his career to be a playoff team in 11 of those years. While Father Time is creeping into the picture, I believe — with a little fine-tuning with regards to game-to-game consistency — there is no reason to expect that Hank can’t anchor the Blueshirts once again. Pavelec, a seasoned veteran coming off a disappointing year, looks to take some of the workload off “The King.”
2. Down the Middle
As the season opens, both Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes are expected to carry the brunt of the top-2 center ice roles. Hayes made tremendous strides last season before hitting the wall around the 65-game mark, and Zibanejad’s maiden Ranger voyage was somewhat waylaid due to a broken ankle. Both are entering the prime of their careers and the Blueshirts will be much better served if these two can play as legitimate top-line center ice NHLers.
3. Power Play
With better coaching and more skill on the ice, all teams are better equipped to play a 5-on-5 game in today’s NHL. There is not a whole lot of room when it comes to the even-strength game. That puts a premium on special teams. The addition of Shattenkirk should improve a power play that ranked in the lower third of the regular season last year.
Since the 2011-12 season, Kevin ranks second among defensemen in total power play points and one should expect his addition to help the Rangers’ power play.