Nine games into the 2011-12 NHL season, the New York Rangers are a .500 team, with threes across the board (3-3-3). Nine points earned -- a point-per-game pace -- is not too shabby and the Blueshirts, for the most part, have been a disoriented bunch.
For a team that returned most of its roster and added one key piece on offense (Brad Richards) and a supplementary one in Mike Rupp, most unsettling is that no forward line has clicked for a sustained period of time. The team is averaging just over two goals a game, and giving up just about that amount as well (negative-4 goal differential thus far). Coming into the year, with Marc Staal sidelined, we knew that the defense would be prone to lapses, none more than blowing a three-goal lead in the third period to the Ottawa Senators, but nobody expected such chemistry issues to exist throughout the forward core. New York has even resorted to recalling Sean Avery from the AHL, according to reports, to realistically add some energy to what's been a lifeless bunch.
From Monday, Oct. 31 to Sunday, Nov. 6, the Rangers will play four games -- all at home. The Blueshirts can ill-afford to carry over their mediocre home play from last season into this one, yet so far they've earned one point and lost twice. This week presents a very tough test.
San Jose Sharks: Monday, Oct. 31, 7 p.m. EST, MSG
The Sharks began the season with three losses in their first four games, but since that time have won five straight games to boost their record to 6-3. Top to bottom, it's a very talented and explosive team with depth. Joe Pavelski leads the team with seven goals and 11 points on the year, and he's playing alongside the dynamic duo of Joe Thornton, a top-tier playmaker who has totaled over 80 points in five of the last six seasons, and Patrick Marleau, who is coming off of three-straight 70-plus point seasons. Up-and-comer Logan Couture centers the second line alongside the gritty, but point-producing Ryan Clowe and sharp-shooter Martin Havlat. The Sharks also boast a front-line defensive pair in Dan Boyle an Brent Burns, and a solid backstop in Antti Niemi who has a 2.18 goals-against average and .917 save percentage on the year. Yeah, the Rangers will behind the eight-ball in this one, especially the way they've looked this year, but maybe a team they are forced to step up against will be good for them. They beat San Jose 3-2 in a shootout last season on the road.
Anaheim Ducks: Thursday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. EST, MSG
At least on paper, the Rangers go from one elite Western Conference team to the next, and they'll face a a Ducks squad with a 5-5-1 record as of this posting that's experienced it's ups and downs this year. The 2-1 shootout win against the Rangers earlier in the year began a four-game winning streak, but the Ducks have dropped five of their last six -- even losing to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets. Bobby Ryan has struggled out of the gate, with just four points on the year, but the other guys you'd expect: Teemu Selanne (team-leading nine points), Corey Perry (seven points) and Ryan Getlaf (seven points) have all played pretty well this season. The Ducks' problem is that they've received 15 of their 22 goals from these four players and just seven from the rest of their lineup. Secondary scoring is lacking and even solid goaltending from Jonas Hillar, 2.55 GAA, .904 SV% hasn't been able to turn the tide. The Blueshirts need to take advtange of a team that's far from its peak and keep the No.1 line off the scoresheet. On the plus side, Avery could be making his season debut in this game, giving the Madison Square Garden crowd even more energy.
Montreal Canadiens: Saturday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m. EST, MSG+
Last season, New York had its trouble with Montreal, winning just one of their four meetings. Overall, they never looked together against the Candiens, but on the bright side, their one win was at MSG. The Habs were a sixth seed in the playoffs last season, yet they scored the lowest amount of any team in the playoffs. Montreal still isn't expected to light the world on fire, yet its strength lies in the fact that you can't just focus on one line because their scoring -- at least so far -- is so varied. Tomas Plekanic and Max Pacioretty pace the team with nine points (four goals, five assists) and the talented Carey Price has shaken off a rough start to allow just four goals in the last three games -- all wins -- after losing five straight. After such a stellar rookie season, feisty defenseman P.K. Subban has just three assists in 11 games, but with Andrei Markov still out, other blueliners have picked up the slack. The Habs have a slew of shifty forwards, but the Rangers cannot play the finesse game in this one.
Winnipeg Jets: Sunday, Nov. 6, 7 p.m. EST, MSG+
The Jets are not a good team. Yet, early this season, the Rangers have made almost every team look better than they are. Even though New York squeaked out a win in their first meeting, it wasn't deserved and it only stood up because of great goaltending from Martin Biron as the Rangers had only 17 shots on net. The Jets are 3-5-1 as of this writing with big-bodied, inconsistent veteran Nik Antropov and youngster Alex Burmistrov leading the way with nine points. Hopefully, by this stage of the week the Rangers are in a groove and can overwhelm Winnipeg with their forechecking, black-and-blue style. To have more success than they've had, though, they need to get more shots on net.
Next 5 Games
|San Jose||Mon 10/31||7:00 PM EDT|
|Anaheim||Thu 11/03||7:00 PM EDT|
|Montreal||Sat 11/05||7:00 PM EDT|
|Winnipeg||Sun 11/06||7:00 PM EST|
|@ Ottawa||Wed 11/09||7:30 PM EST|
Last 5 Games
|Ottawa||Sat 10/29||SO - L 4 - 5|
|Toronto||Thu 10/27||L 2 - 4|
|@ Winnipeg||Mon 10/24||W 2 - 1|
|@ Edmonton||Sat 10/22||L 0 - 2|
|@ Calgary||Thu 10/20||OT - W 3 - 2|