New York Rangers: Dangerous Oilers will provide first real test

NEWARK, NJ – OCTOBER 10: Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) faces off during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the Edmonton Oilers on October 10, 2019 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Is it Saturday yet? It has felt like an eternity since the New York Rangers last played but they will finally get back to it when they host the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden tomorrow.

It has been nearly a whole week since the New York Rangers last hit a puck in competitive anger, with the rest of the NHL keeping on since Mika Zibanejad returned to Ottawa to beat up on his former team with a superb hat trick.

But we will finally have a Rangers game to enjoy on Saturday when the Edmonton Oilers finish their journey through the New York area and hopefully a week off won’t hinder the Blueshirts too much.

It has been a superb start to the year for the Rangers who have outscored their opponents 10-5 through two games, scoring three power play goals and two shorthanded efforts.

However, it is important to not get carried away especially when you consider that the majority of the Rangers’ scoring has come from Mika Zibanejad and that dynamic top line, which has delivered the goods so far.

They also haven’t faced the best teams yet with the Ottawa Senators clearly at the start of a rebuild, while the Winnipeg Jets have been decimated on the blueline to start the regular season, although they should still be a playoff team given the offensive weapons they have at their disposal.

NEWARK, NJ- OCTOBER 10: The Edmonton Oilers react after defeating the New Jersey Devils in a shoot-out during the game on October 10, 2019 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The Oilers defeated the Devils 4-3. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

And it is fair to suggest that the toughest test of 2019-20 so far will come tomorrow at MSG, with the Edmonton Oilers not your father’s Oilers anymore.

Although we are still in the infancy of this year, Edmonton under new Head Coach Dave Tippett and General Manager Ken Holland look to be a different team and they are 4-0-0 to start the year.

They’ve been unstoppable so far, recording wins against the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings at home before hitting the road to beat up on the New York Islanders, while they defeated the struggling New Jersey Devils in a shootout last night.

Connor McDavid has been vintage Connor McDavid and he has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) already, while Leon Draisaitl has carried on from where he left off last year with two goals and six assists for eight points.

But, perhaps the most impressive individual performer for the Oilers through four games has been James Neal, who is currently enjoying one hell of a resurgence.

After enduring a woeful year in Calgary with the Flames in 2018-19, Neal was traded to the Oilers for Milan Lucic in the off-season after tallying just 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists) in 63 games last season.

But a change of scenery appears to have worked wonders and Neal has already equaled his goal tally of seven from last year, scoring four in just one game against the New York Islanders earlier this week.

Neal boasts a wicked and deadly release when shooting the puck, and he’ll pose a real threat to a young and largely inexperienced Rangers blueline on Saturday night.

OTTAWA, ON – OCTOBER 05: New York Rangers Center Mika Zibanejad (93) is congratulated by New York Rangers Defenceman Libor Hajek (25) and team mates after scoring a hat trick in the NHL game against the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 5, 2019 at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

McDavid with his superhuman speed and mind-boggling treasure chest of skills is capable of shredding teams apart on his own, and Jacob Trouba could find himself setting a career-high in average total ice time tomorrow in a bid to try and put the shackles on the brightest star the NHL currently has to offer.

The Oilers are currently ranked fourth on the power play (40.0 percent) and they also rank fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill with a percentage of 92.3, which should provide a fascinating battle against the Rangers’ red hot PP which ranks first in the NHL (60.0 percent).

Edmonton are currently averaging 4.25 Goals Per Game and they are also getting solid goaltending from Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, so they should provide the Rangers with a real tough examination.

However, and as we’ve seen through the first two games, these New York Rangers are different and they pack a plethora of offensive talent, led by Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad.

They have averaged five goals per game in their opening two contests and their power play is clicking at a deadly rate.

There are concerns over their secondary scoring although Kaapo Kakko looks ready to explode offensively at any moment, while the blueline will get the chance to prove what they are made of against the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl and Neal.

Overall, this matchup has all the ingredients to produce a thrilling and compelling show at Madison Square Garden, and a refreshed Edmonton Oilers outfit should provide a good measuring stick for a New York Rangers team who are also on an upwards trajectory.