The New York Rangers opened their 2011-12 season schedule in Stockholm, Sweden against the Kings and Ducks and head home to the United States with two points after an overtime and shootout loss. Both games New York could have easily come out with wins (and swung the other way, for that matter), though the game against the Ducks they were lucky to salvage a point in as they really couldn't get anything going offensively.
This week, the Rangers will not play until Saturday against the New York Islanders, meaning there will be a week-long layoff to get acclimated to U.S. time and work out some kinks. But it's also a week to lose some flow and get out of game shape, so the Rangers are at a disadvantage there.
To kickstart a feature SB Nation NY hopes to run each week of the season, I'm going to take a look at some troubling signs from the week that was as well as point out reason to be optimistic. And ultimately, I'll preview the week ahead in Rangers' hockey. With only one game this week, reflections on the past two games will be a bit longer.
Reasons To Worry
Let's first preface this and the next section by saying that the season is only two games old. While it would've been nicer to come home with two wins, the Blueshirts got two points in very unusual circumstances being in Europe for such an extended period of time, which surely affected their day-to-day habits. Please, let's not get worried -- or too happy -- about two games because it's such a small sample size and there are 80 games left in this campaign.
Penalties: The Rangers had a predilection for sitting in the penalty box far too often in the preseason, and those bad habits continued in the first two games of 2011-12. New York was forced to kill a total of 11 penalties. Even though they only allowed one power-play goal, this is not a trend that can continue. It wears down the personnel used on the penalty kill and it stunts any positive momentum, as well as not allowing the offensive-minded guys play.
Power Play: New York had eight power-play chances, seven of them against the Ducks. Brad Richards was signed to not only be the No. 1 center, but also orchestrate the man advantage. To put it nicely, it was awful. In eight opportunities, it only managed four shots on goal, a truly pitiful number. The Rangers can enjoy being a bottom feeder of that continues. There's just no excuse for not getting shots on goal a man up. From my perspective, it needs to be altogether quicker and sharper.
Lacking team team identity: New York wasn't physical enough. It lacked what became its bread and butter forechecking and overall gritty play. It was shown in spurts, but far too often the Rangers were out-worked and not enough pressure was put on in the neutral zone. I think we can chalk this one up to early-season rustiness.
Reasons To Be Optimistic
Henrik Lundqvist: The brick wall in net was the main reason New York was able to get two points. He was the best player on the ice for the Rangers in both games, allowing four goals when really it could have been double. He had 54 saves, showed his tip-top focus and excellent positioning. If Lundqvist plays like that and the Rangers score some goals this year, they'll be hard to beat.
Two Points: It sounds cliche, but the Blueshirts got two points against two tough Western Conference, playoff-bound teams. Besides the Sabres who won both of their Sweden games, the Rangers didn't perform any worse than the teams abroad. It's certainly better than going home empty-handed. Any points are valuable, and New York was able to get two when they weren't their best and often outplayed.
Brad Richards: Two games, two points. His work on the power play may have not been eye opening, but he's the reason New York got a point against the Ducks, scoring a goal with just over two minutes remaining that only elite-level players do. He also had a hand in Marian Gaborik's Game 1 goal. Richards didn't look overly dominant, but he will only become more dangerous as he grows comfortable with his linemates and finds his groove. The 31-year-old should be a point-plus-a-game player for the Rangers this season.
Islanders (Saturday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. EST, MSG): The Islanders lost their first game of the year against the Panthers and looked rather dismal doing it. The Islanders will play two games this week, but regardless of their outcome, they're always amped up to play the Rangers. The Blueshirts were 4-2 against them last season, losing their two games on the Island. Between a carousel of goaltenders (they have three, and there's a reason for it), weak defensive core and not a ton of depth, the Rangers should have equal success againsttheir rivals this season. If New York doesn't come out with energy in this one, sound the alarms. This is the kind of game that could jumpstart the Rangers' engine.