With New Vision, Rangers Brace for Flames

The Rangers host the Calgary Flames tonight at Madison Square Garden in the first of two meetings between the teams this season.

The Flames are one of three opponents the Blueshirts have yet to face with Winnipeg and Minnesota being the other two. The Jets and Wild are next up on the schedule as the Rangers head west tomorrow to kick off four consecutive on the road.

[Watch Rangers-Flames Tonight on MSG & MSG GO]

Yesterday, in a bold and truthfully a very honest statement, General Manager Jeff Gorton and President Glen Sather addressed the Rangers fan base and media as to what was in store with the impending trade deadline just around the corner. Acknowledging the disappointment that has – by and large – characterized the season, Gorton and his staff will look to become younger, quicker and more skilled. For the first time in 13 seasons, the Rangers will not be looking to add to a lineup in an attempt to bolster the roster for a deep playoff run.

There have been too many signs over enough time this season that, presently constructed, this roster is just not good enough or the franchise deep enough to be a bona fide playoff team. Let alone a Stanley Cup contender. The Rangers core group has not gotten any quicker or any more skilled. The top contenders today have an identity led by a wealth of upper echelon talent with the requisite amount of skill, youth and depth.

Patience, hard work and perhaps a little luck are going to be required as the Rangers, the league’s most valuable franchise, look to reestablish themselves as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

Alain Vigneault liked how the Rangers started the game before things got out of hand (video courtesy of New York Rangers)

Calgary enters play tonight sitting in second place in the Pacific Division holding down a playoff spot in the very tight Western Conference. Led by top forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the Flames beat the Devils last night, 3-2. Calgary has won three consecutive after having gone 0-2-4 in their previous six games. Gaudreau, who sits in third place in the NHL in scoring with 64 points, is an electrifying All-Star and proof that at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. Very good things can come in very small packages in today’s NHL.

[5 Facts to Know: Rangers vs. Flames]

Defenseman Brendan Smith has cleared waivers and has been assigned to Hartford of the American Hockey League. Signed to a lucrative free agent contract as the result of good play after being acquired from Detroit at last year’s trade deadline, this season Smith had been a healthy scratch for 10 games and has been dismayingly poor when in the lineup. His lack of conditioning was a major reason for his early season troubles. Yet, it’s mystifying trying to find an answer to the steep drop in his game. If Smith goes to the minors with an attitude to figure things out, the Rangers will have a quality depth defender in their system. If not, that is an awful lot of money out the window.

3 KEYS TO RANGERS-FLAMES

1. Lundqvist

On so many fronts, Henrik Lundqvist will be a key to the season and to the future of the franchise. A little calmer and steadier presence from Hank will be important as the season-finishing roster may be less than NHL-ready due to injuries and whatever happens in the trade market.

Henrik Lundqvist points to a few mistakes that cost the Rangers against Boston (video courtesy of New York Rangers)

2. Get to Smith

At the other end, Calgary netminder Mike Smith, who is brilliant when on, can be vulnerable when he is forced to move quickly. He has a very active style and can get himself in trouble being too active. Make Smith earn it.

3. Give the Home Crowd Something

Of recent, there has not been enough of a pulse on display at The Garden and any home-ice advantage has fallen to the wayside much too early in the game. Be it a save, a hit, a goal or two whatever. The home crowd deserves more.

[Watch Rangers-Flames Tonight on MSG & MSG GO]

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.