It’s that time of year again. You know, the time when we fool ourselves into believing that the Rangers won’t torture us for the next five and a half months. That time of year when we tell ourselves to be patient and then freak out when a few players inevitably have a slow start. That time of year when we can’t decide whether to give John Tortorella the Jack Adams Award or whether to fire him. That’s right! It’s hockey season. So welcome aboard, Knicks fans. Don’t worry Yankees fans. Mets fans… you’ve been with us since Traverse City.
The Rangers face the Los Angeles Kings today at 1:00 ET (MSG, Versus) as we start off the season in Stockholm, Sweden. Let’s look at a few things to watch out for today as it pertains to both the individual game and how it affects things moving forward.
Line Chemistry- Here are the lines for the first game of the season:
Every single forward line that John Tortorella has put together is brand new. Obviously the first and fourth lines are new due to offseason additions, and the players and the second and third lines played very little together last season, if at all. We all know how much Tortorella loves to screw around with line combinations, so in the first few games especially he’ll be looking to see which players are working well together and which ones aren’t. Will Fedotenko play well enough to keep a spot on the second line? In theory Rupp complements Prust and Boyle well, but will it actually translate on the ice? The real wild card in the third line, though. You have three guys who are skilled but inconsistent. All three are hardly physical and only Stepan is particularly good defensively. Thus, it’s a line that could produce offense every game or could be a complete detriment to the team. It’s like Erik Christensen decided that line combination.
Marc Staal’s Absence- Never a good thing to be without your best defenseman, especially for a team like the Rangers with solid depth on defense but limited top talent. Regardless, the Rangers don’t have a choice but to move on until he can come back. Who is going to step up and take advantage? Ryan McDonagh will start the season on the top pairing, but he’s no lock to stay there. Will he play well enough to keep that spot? Will Del Zotto redeem himself and provide enough offense to make him worth sticking with Girardi? Tim Erixon was supposed to start the season in the AHL but the Staal’s injury has given him an earlier than anticipated NHL debut. Injuries required the Rangers to call up Ryan McDonagh last season and he played well enough to stick for good. Could Erixon have similar luck? The way I see it, Staal and Girardi are the only locks to be in the lineup every night. After that, it’s up to Del Zotto, McDonagh, Sauer, Eminger, and maybe even Erixon to earn their way into the lineup for every game.
Marian Gaborik- John Tortorella, Glen Sather, and the rest of the organization have done a very good job of getting rid of the garbage and bringing in quality talent. Thus, Rangers fans are running out of players to lash out at. Drury was bought out and retired. Christensen will be a healthy scratch as long as everyone stays healthy. After the underachieving of last season, I expect Marian Gaborik to be the prime target for being the team scapegoat. Of course, the first few games hardly determine the fate of a whole season, but a quick start would not only get the fans off of his back but would also relieve pressure he’s probably putting on himself. Many of the players Sather has famously given large contracts to were either overpaid for their abilities from the start or simply didn’t have the attitude to match the talent. Gaborik certainly has the talent to match the contract and he definitely has his priorities in the right place. If he can relax and stick to his game he’ll be fine, especially with two great line-mates.
Here’s something that is absolutely remarkable. The Kings have one player from Europe. One! And that is Anze Kopitar from Slovenia. The Rangers have a roster that has more North Americans that majority of the NHL teams and yet we’ve got Gaborik, Fedotenko, Zuccarello, Erixon, and Lundqvist. The Rangers have a large fanbase in Europe and Henrik is basically a deity in Sweden, so I anticipate the Rangers having the crowd advantage tonight. Any sprinkle of Slovakian and Norwegian fans we get because of Gaborik and Zuccarello won’t hurt, either.
Check out Rink Royalty to see the Kings’ starting lineup for today.