Finally, Game 1 of the 2011-12 New York Rangers season is here. It may not be under the most ideal circumstances, but this is a young, exciting bunch and they will encounter a big test on the first day of the season. The Blueshirts (93 points last year) will take on the Los Angeles Kings (98 points) in Stockholm, Sweden (1PM, EST).
There is a lot of optimism surrounding this New York squad, as they retain a strong core, added a legitimate No. 1 center in Brad Richards, have a game-saving goalie in Henrik Lundqvist and a coach whose formed a tough, hard-working team identity. However, they will play their first seven games away from home ice due to Madison Square Garden's rennovation work, two of which will be in Stockholm.
The other problem from the onset is the loss of Marc Staal, who is still suffering from post-concussion symptoms. The elevates Ryan McDonagh into a first-pairing role with Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto into the second pairing with Michael Sauer, with 20-year-old Tim Erixon occupying a spot on the final pairing along with Steve Eminger. This defense is young and unproven, and the Kings' offense will be a good match for them.
Los Angeles didn't necessarily light up the scoresheet last year, but that will certainly improve this year as Mike Richards (66 points) and the oft-injured, but dangerous Simon Gagne (40 points) have joined the fold that includes stud-center Anze Kopitar (73 points), winger Dustin Penner (45 points), along with captain Dustin Brown (57 points) and Justin Williams (57 points). The Kings have an imposing top-six and despite it being the first game of the year, it will tell a lot about what the Rangers' defense (and team) is capable of.
The Kings' focus will be stopping the Brandon Dubinsky-Richards-Marian Gaborik line, but the Blueshirts are well-rounded and have the ability to score from all lines. Regardless, Rangers fans are pumped to see what Richards can do for Gaborik.
This should be a fun one.