The New York Rangers enter their first full week of games beginning Tuesday, which is really the perfect ingredient for a team still trying to find its footing after an up-and-down -- travel included -- last few weeks.
After spending several weeks in Europe, then returning to the United States only to have a week off and fall to the rival New York Islanders, even a four-game Western Canada swing will be welcomed. What this team needs is to keep playing. Enough about the 'productive' practices; you hit your stride by playing in a steady flow of games.
The Blueshirts will begin their trip 'West' -- which will last four games, and they'll play three of them this week -- with a game against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, the Calgary Flames on Thursday and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
There's not really a lot of game material to go by from the past week since New York only played one game, however the keys remain the same for when the Rangers played the Islanders:
1 - Stay out of the penalty box. This team has been penalized 19 times -- eight in its last game -- this season. You're never going to get a flow going if you're constantly playing a man down.
2 - Return to their attacking, heavy forechecking style. The Rangers excel when they're dictating the pace by constantly pressuring opponents. Their offense comes from this type of hard work.
3 - Keep the defensive game simple. With so many inexperienced players -- and Brendan Bell may now be thrown into the lineup with Michael Sauer's shoulder still ailing -- the defensemen need not be fancy. Just get the job done. Make simple plays. The forwards will need to help out as well.
Vancouver Canucks, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 10 p.m. EST, MSG+: No team is a gimmee, but it's kind of odd how this played out. This Western Canada trip starts with the toughest (at least on paper) team and steadily gets 'easier.' The Canucks are 2-2-1 on the year, and are coming off an NHL-leading 117-point season last season. They boast two of the most dangerous snipers in the league in Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Do-it-all forward (and Selke Trophy winner) Ryan Kesler could also make his season debut against the Rangers. Former Ranger Dale Weise will also be amped up to play his old club, there's no doubt about that. This Canucks team is no joke and could be one of the most dangerous teams the Rangers will face all season. New York beat them 1-0 last year, but it easily could've gone the other way.
Calgary Flames, Thursday, Oct. 20, 9:30 p.m. EST, MSG: Calgary is currently 1-3 on the year and is a team like the Rangers who really has been unimpressive thus far. It's early, but these Flames were a 94-point team (though they did not make the playoffs) last year, and still have players like Jarome Iginla, who is probably the team's most important, savvy veteran Alex Tanguay and former frustrating Ranger Olli Jokinen. They also have a good goalie in Mikka Kiprusoff along with offensive defensemen Jay Boumeester and Mark Giordano, in a very solid top-four d-core. They're a step below the Canucks, but a team with enough offensive firepower to make New York pay for mistakes (and penalties). The Rangers beat them 2-1 last season at the end of November, and this is a good time as ever to take advantage of a team that was inconsistent at times last season.
Edmonton Oilers, Saturday, Oct. 22, 10 p.m. EST, MSG+: This young squad is coming off a 62-point campaign, and the worst record in the NHL. Overall, the Oilers (1-1-1 at this posting) will be a very fun team to watch because of the amount of exciting really, really young forwards to watch. This year's No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (18 years old) already has four goals and has played on top-six minutes with 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall, who is 19. Don't forget players like Linus OMark, 24, Magnus Paajarvi, 20, and Jordan Eberle, 21, all who have considerable offensive upside. There's a lot to be optimistic about in the future for Edmonton, but the chances it all comes together this year is very small. In addition, the excitement the offense brings to this team is mitigated by how poor their defense sets up to be. Twenty-five-year-old Devan Dubnyk looks to be the goalie at this point, which is a good move as Nikolai Khabibulin (yawn) has no future in the league. While the future is very bright, fans must remember, it's a process. Rangers won 8-2 last season.
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