Can New-Look Rangers Extinguish Flames?

Greetings from a snowy, cold Western Canada where the Rangers are in Calgary to take on the Flames in their second and final meeting of the regular season.

Mika Zibanejad scored a third-period power play goal to break a 3-3 tie as the Blueshirts prevailed 4-3 at Madison Square Garden on February 9. It was a day after General Manager Jeff Gorton and President Glen Sather publicly acknowledged that changes were coming.

And sure enough, they were not kidding around.

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Vladislav Namestnikov made his Rangers debut in Vancouver after being acquired from Tampa Bay, scoring once and setting up another in the Blueshirts 6-5 overtime win. The 25-year old center played with a poise and presence indicative of someone who has learned to play the game the correct way. His father, Evgeny, spent some time in the NHL, while his uncle, Slava Kozlov, is a two-time Stanley Cup winner and played 1,182 games in the NHL. He played junior hockey for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League, a program run by ex-NHLers, Dave and Dale Hunter. The Knights organization is about as close to a professional operation at the junior level as there is.

[Read: The Retiring Stan Fischler’s Reflections and Thanks]

Finally, Tampa Bay is a franchise that is soundly run from top to bottom. The Lightning does a really good job nurturing their young players, not forcing them into the league before they are ready. Namestnikov was playing on one of the league’s top lines with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. That doesn’t just happen. The Rangers have acquired a player who is entering the “wheel-house” age of his career whom by nature and through nurture knows how to play a solid NHL game.

Ryan Spooner, another deadline acquisition, picked up three assists in the win over the Canucks. Coming over from Boston, Spooner has five points, all assists, in his first two games in a Rangers uniform. Admittedly disappointed after having been dealt away from Boston after spending the first five years of his NHL career with the organization, Spooner has shown an intriguing set of skills. He has great balance, good hockey sense and an uncanny knack for moving the puck to the right spot in a subtle manner. Early career issues have centered around a lack of game-to-game consistency. He has seemed to fit in well with Jesper Fast and Kevin Hayes. While I would not put the line in the Hall of Fame just yet, there has been a quick chemistry established and it will be interesting to see if the trio can keep it going.

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Calgary is coming off back-to-back defeats on the road against Dallas and Colorado. The Flames took a total of 13 penalties in the losses and will need to be more disciplined as the season winds down. They are in the middle of an intense playoff battle in the West, presently sitting in the fifth wild card spot but just one point out of a postseason berth.

Calgary is just .500 at home but one should expect an intense opponent this evening. Up front, the dynamic Johnny Gaudreau leads the way while the Flames blueline stands amongst the leagues deepest and most skilled.

3 KEYS

1. Patience

The Rangers defense, beyond Marc Staal, is very NHL-young and the youngsters tend to try and chase down mistakes in their own end of the ice. That rarely works, especially at this level, and a little bit of patience will go a long way in the defensive zone.

2. Get to Gillies

Jon Gillies will start in goal for Calgary tonight. It will mark just his sixth NHL appearance and the Rangers need to get to him early. If he is going to be good make him earn it.

3. Keep it Simple

Lots of new bodies, not a lot of practice time. If all else fails, make the simple play. Keep the puck away from danger. Protect the front of the net. Play the body. All simple stuff.

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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.