Fresh off what seemed like a near-improbable (for two periods) 4-0 victory against the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Rangers take their talents to the east, against the Calgary Flames on Thursday night (9:30 p.m. EST, MSG).
The Flames haven't been too sharp out of the gate, going 2-3, and after their slow start last year, 18-20-5 before going 23-9-7, they'll surely be looking for ways to get it right early on because that near-.500 beginning kept them out of the playoffs, despite a 94-point season.
What the Rangers have to deal with in this one is a veteran-heavy team that ranked No. 7 in the league in scoring last season, and one that has a pretty solid defensive core. Calgary sports one of the best scorers in the NHL in Jarome Iginla (43 last season, and 75th in NHL's all-time points list), though in five games, he's managed only one assist. New York will hope he doesn't breakout against them, with Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh matched up against him.
Old pal Oli Jokinen is tied for the team high in points, with five, though he's been one of the more confounding players in the game throughout his career. Veteran Alex Tanguay is the other man tied for the points lead, while Rene Bourque is a solid secondary winger who's had 27 goals the past two seasons. This team has the ability to put points on the board, but is not nearly the threat that the Canucks were. Still, without Marc Staal and again without Michael Sauer, the Rangers aren't in the best shape on defense. Even though the Canucks had 40 shots and Henrik Lundqvist had to be stellar, the defense had its OK moments. Small improvements here would be welcomed.
Mikka Kiprusoff is as solid as they come in net, and the Flames have a very good top pair on defense of Mark Giordano and Jay Bouwmeester and decent depth throughout the blueliners, but the Rangers should be able to get their fair share of shots/chances. ... It starts on the power play, which has gone goal-less through 16 chances.
With 27 penalties on the year and eight against Vancouver, the Rangers know they are playing with fire and also need to stay out of the penalty box. That's really the biggest key in this one.
The way they exploded in the third -- with three goals from 'secondary' scorers -- has to make them feel good, but they'll need that type of play to be consistent and have succcess.