The New York Rangers after just over two weeks of the 2011-12 NHL season are 2-2-2, yet if you judged the team based on the talk from fans, you'd think they were winless. Either way, the season is seven percent completed -- and whether they were 0-0-6 or 6-0-0, should not ring any alarms.
Further, the Blueshirts are certainly the rare team under very special circumstances at the beginning of this campaign: Seven road games in a row before playing at Madison Square Garden and 16,032 miles traveled (h/t The Record's Andrew Gross) before they get the benefit of home ice -- which will equate to six in a row beginning this week. I realize a winning team should never resort to making excuses, but the fact of the matter is these guys are human and traveling like this has to take its toll. Six points in six games -- ideally more with Monday's game -- is acceptable.
Granted, the Blueshirts have been an consistent, up-and-down team in their six games and they were only three games above .500 at home last season. The whole point is, the season is young, but getting points whichever way possible now cannot be understated. Hopefully, the latest loss in Edmonton will serve as a valuable early-season lesson.
Here's a look at this week's slate of games:
At Winnipeg Jets, Monday, Oct. 24, 8:30 p.m. EST, MSG+ : Mileage aside, this 'Atlanta Thrashers' team is not very good and one the Rangers are definitely more talented than. The Jets are 2-4-1 on the year, but already have the third-worst goal differential -- minus-9 -- in the league. Winnipeg does not possess a very good offense, but they do have Dustin Byfuglien on the back end who can flat-out hammer the puck and uses the body very well. Twenty-year-old Alex Burmistrov, the team's first-round selection in 2010, is coming off a 20-point campaign in his rookie year (74 games), but already leads the team with six points this year. The Russian center flashes the talent to be a dynamic playmaker, but is still very raw. The growth of he and 20-year-old winger Evander Kane will be what defines this offense. Other than that, there's a number of fliers and middling (Nik Antropov) forwards on this roster. Tobias Enstrom, 27, (four points) is another talented who has posted back-to-back 50 point seasons. The Jets will rely heavily on Ondrej Pavelec because their defensive game is just not their strong suit. Rangers' depth should win out; they should be able to wear this group out by the end
Home - Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday, Oct. 27, 7:00 p.m. EST, MSG: New York finally gets to break in on their home turf. Toronto is one of the very early-season surprises with a 5-1-1 record. The knock against them in the early going: they've been untested on the road (just two games) and they've scored one more goal than they've let in. The bright side, Phil Kessel is in the midst of one of his hot streaks as he has 14 points on the year, eight goals (32 percent shooting percentage). And Dion Phaneuf has nine points on the season and is showing glimpses of his early-Calgary form. John-Michael Liles forms a solid pairing with Phaneuf and the Leafs do possess a decent defense, but will undeniably have to rely on youngster James Reimer to bail them out for their season's hope and this game's. Against a hot team away from home, New York has to impose their physical style, make them feel uncomfortable and avoid running around. The Rangers should be able to ride their fan momentum in this one, if nothing else.
Home - Ottawa Senators, Saturday, Oct. 29, 3:00 p.m. EST, MSG: The Sens are 3-5 (as of this posting), but have already given up five or more goals four times this season. And they've beaten three lower-tier teams (Wild, Jets, Blue Jackets). On paper, the Rangers have a pretty easy week in store for them. The Senators should finish as one of the worst teams in the league. They have trouble scoring (second-worst in the league last year), and their goaltending, Craig Anderson and Alex Auld, has been horrific. Jason Spezza is still here, 11 points already this season, but he'd likely be gone if it wasn't for his contract. Defenseman Erik Karlsson (45 points last yer) is fun to watch, which is rare on this team. This could be the perfect recipe for the Rangers to get off the offensive schneid in a big way.
Next 5 Games
|@ Winnipeg||Mon 10/24||8:30 PM EDT|
|Toronto||Thu 10/27||7:00 PM EDT|
|Ottawa||Sat 10/29||3:00 PM EDT|
|San Jose||Mon 10/31||7:00 PM EDT|
|Anaheim||Thu 11/03||7:00 PM EDT|
Last 5 Games
|@ Edmonton||Sat 10/22||L 0 - 2|
|@ Calgary||Thu 10/20||OT - W 3 - 2|
|@ Vancouver||Tue 10/18||W 4 - 0|
|@ New York Islanders||Sat 10/15||L 2 - 4|
|@ Anaheim||Sat 10/08||SO - L 1 - 2|