It’s fairly obvious what everyone will be watching Tuesday at The Garden when the Rangers play the Vegas Golden Knights for the first time.
The start. The start. The first few minutes. The first goal(s). The first period.
Those were all nightmares for the Rangers on Saturday in Montreal, with a start that has become terrifyingly familiar and costly. The Rangers have won three of their first 12 games (3-7-2), and the starts have been fits, with the Blueshirts allowing 18 first-period goals, and eight of those in the first six minutes.
“It’s obviously a mental thing going into it for us,” Marc Staal said after practice Monday. “We’re just not in the right frame of mind to start the game and it’s causing us to get outplayed.
“We’re giving up some goals and playing from behind a lot. Coming into the locker room and it’s the same room, the same things are being said, the same type of things where you’re going into the game feeling good about it, and then it just doesn’t happen on the ice.
“We need to be more locked in when the puck drops.”
Easier said than done.
Vegas is the surprise (is that a strong enough word?) team in the league, entering Monday’s game in Brooklyn with an 8-1 record to start their inaugural season. The Knights swarm, they come at you. Suffice it to say they will be pumped for their first Garden visit. Suffice it to say, they will be a handful.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I got a couple days here of practice, take a deep breath, and try to gather as much energy and focus as you can going into (Tuesday’s) game. It’s a good test for us right now, where we are and also who we’re facing this upcoming week.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said that Lundqvist and goalie coach Benoit Allaire “worked extremely hard the last three or four days here, a couple of technical things that I think Benny addressed with Hank. And, you know, he’s going to be ready. Hank’s a true professional, hard worker and he’s going to be ready.”
Asked if he needs Lundqvist to win a game for him right now, Vigneault said, “I need our team to have a good start. There are a couple of areas we need to focus on as far as the front of our net, and making a good first pass to be able to get out of our zone and through the neutral zone. If we focus on those areas we’re going to be in good shape.”
Vigneault believes most of the slow starts to date have been a matter of breakdowns and mistakes, not so much across-the-board unpreparedness. But Montreal was different, he said.
“Everybody knows there are two games where we really got outplayed (in the first period) – the Toronto game and obviously the last Montreal game. The other games where we haven’t gotten off to the way we wanted were more, in my estimation, individual mistakes than a collective disarray that we saw in Montreal.
“I could try and spin it positively and say, ‘in both those game we came back.’ But at the end of the day, right now, we need as a group to come up with a real solid effort both offensively and defensively.
“Obviously, in the last game,” he added, “that execution and that compete level … was not nearly good enough in the first period.”