It's been a tough go so far for the New York Rangers.
While a first-round exit in the lockout-shortened 2013 season left many disappointed, expectations were high for a team with many solid pieces. The Rangers refined their formula, somewhat, maintaining their roster and making a coaching swap their only significant off-season move. In changing their coach, the Rangers lost John Tortorella and the hard-nosed, shot-blocking style that had become their trademark. In his place was former Habs and Canucks bench boss Alain Vigneault, who favours a higher-tempo and specialized deployment of his top weapons. While things were certainly going to be different, it still appeared that the Rangers would again be solid playoff contenders.
Of course, it's early yet, but the first eighth of the season has been difficult in the big apple. Off-ice challenges began in the summer, when contract negotiations with young centre Derek Stepan ran longer than expected. Once the games began, the team quickly ran into a rough patch. After an opening night victory over the formidable LA Kings, the Rangers would lose three in a row, being outscored 20-5 in the process. One of those losses, a 9-2 thrashing at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, was so traumatizing that NYR back-up Martin Biron retired following the game. Fans of the Canadiens will now be keenly aware of what the Sharks can do, but a 6-0 loss to the Ducks two nights later didn't help matters.
Fast forward to today, and the Rangers are nine games into their schedule and have yet to play a home game, thanks to the renovation of their venerable rink. Compounding the issues experienced by those on the ice are the circumstance surrounding those who haven't been able to skate. Star forward Rick Nash was the victim of questionable early-season hit, limiting him to only three games so far. As if the loss of Nash were not enough, subsequent injuries to the speedy Carl Hagelin and top-six winger Ryan Callahan has left the Rangers further short-handed. Then, the icing on the cake: an injury to the NHL's best goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, leaving Manhattan's team in the hands of undrafted rookie Cam Talbot.
Fortunately for the Rangers, and less so for the Habs, Lundqvist has recovered, offering some consolation to New York fans tonight. The positive side of this for Montreal is their ability to score on this elite goaltender with surprising frequency. In 26 starts against the Canadiens in his career, the King has allowed 72 goals while achieving a save percentage of only .896. While the Swedish pro is the type of player one should never count out, there are few teams, if any, that have had as much success as the Habs have had against the NHL's handsomest man.
60.96 metres from Lundqvist will be another one of the NHL's best, Carey Price, who is having a sparkling season so far. In his most recent game, Price allowed two goals against San Jose. The latter goal came on a bizarre bounce in which Price ventured behind the net, only to have the puck sneak out in front onto the blade of Logan Couture. Couture scored the former goal as well, on a play where Michel Therrien decided to counter one of the NHL's most dangerous lines with Francis Bouillon and his fourth line. In any case, two goals allowed to one of the NHL's most productive teams is par for the course for Price so far, as he kept the Habs in every game in which he's played so far this year.
The Canadiens will be able to empathize with the Blueshirts injury woes, as they too are missing some significant players. Forwards Max Pacioretty, Brandon Prust, and George Parros will be unavailable, while Davis Drewiske's rehabilitation timeline has been extended into the spring. Douglas Murray inches closer to readiness, but he too will likely be replaced by a Bulldog on Monday night. Finally, the absence of Alexei Emelin has exposed some depth issues on the Habs defence, which goes to show that you simply must do everything you can to hold on to top defencemen once they're in your system.
For news and notes from New York, adventures in physics, and the inevitable optimism that comes with a weekend win, please refer to Blueshirt Banter.
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