After last night’s thrilling 2-1 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes, the New York Rangers will get a day off before they embark on a stretch of games – including their first showdown with the defending champion Boston Bruins on Jan 21 – that will once again test the mettle of this young, fiery hockey club. So far, any test they’ve been given, the Rangers have passed with flying colors. However, this time around it’s slightly different.
Find out my thoughts after the jump.
The schedule makers decided January would be an excellent time to give the Rangers a six-games-in-nine-days stretch against tough opponents that culminates with the defending champs. Tomorrow night, the Rangers will host the streaking Ottawa Senators, winners of two-straight and 7-1-2 in their last ten games. You’ll remember in their other matchup at MSG on Oct 29, the Blueshirts blew a three-goal, third period lead to lose in a shootout. Young stud D Erik Karlsson is 1st overall in scoring for defenseman – 17th overall for skaters in the league – with 41 points (6 goals, 35 assists) and will be a handful.
After that, the team travels up to Canada to face the Maple Leafs and Canadiens. The Rangers have just nine regulation losses through 40 games – best in the NHL – and Toronto is responsible for two of them at MSG. Toronto is 12-5-4 at the Air Canada Centre so far this season; not an easy task. The Canadiens are next and, to me, are the biggest mismatch in the Eastern Conference with the Rangers and a team you’d rather not face in a seven-game series. The Bell Centre has been a nightmare for Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers since the lockout – need I remind everyone of the five-goal lead blown game on Feb 20, 2008 – and has continued to be this season.
Following their two-game, Canadian road trip, the Blueshirts come home for a two-game home stand against the Predators and Penguins. Standing 6th in the West with 50 points 23-15-4), the Preds are better than most Eastern Conference teams and finding a way to break through against Pekka Rinne – one of the best goalies in the NHL – will not be easy against a Barry Trotz defensive-minded team. The Penguins are beat up with injuries, and the Rangers have handled them in their first two games this season – including a 3-1 win on Jan 6 – but that doesn’t mean the Penguins aren’t capable of stealing a game with Evgeni Malkin and Marc -Andre Fleury still healthy and playing well.
Finally, in a battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers will visit the Bruins in Boston for their first matchup out of four of the season Jan 21. In what could be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals, this game has all the makings to be a classic battle (how many times have these teams skated to a 1-0 final in recent years?). Both teams are the best in GAA and total goals against but the Bruins are #1 in goals scored with 143, including seven players with 10 or more goals.
In this difficult stretch, if the Rangers go 3-3 or 3-2-1, it’s certainly not a cause for concern and would be acceptable considering the opposition. But, being average hasn’t suited John Tortorella and the Rangers this season and they’ll look to prove they belong at the top of the Eastern Conference.