Being picked as an early Stanley Cup contender seems a bit strange for a team that last year faded away badly in the playoffs and then fired their head coach. Yet, here stand the 2013-2014 New York Rangers. With Madison Square Garden in the midst of its multi billion dollar renovation, the team starts the season on a nine game west coast swing.
Coming off their ninth straight post-season appearance, the San Jose Sharks come into the season under strange circumstances of their own. Three of their top players, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle are at least thirty four years old, and each have contracts that expire at the end of this season. Should the team stumble early the heat will be on management to start a rebuild.
So why should you stay up late to watch this early season cross-conference matchup? For one thing, these are two of the most skilled teams in hockey. For another, Anti Niemmi and Henrik Lundqvist have been two of the best goalies in the NHL in recent memory. And finally, NHL Center Ice is still free until the 19th!
Stay out of the Shark Tank
The Sharks have just owned the regular season since the lockout of 2005. They’ve made the playoffs every year in that stretch, and have either won or come second in their conference in half of those seasons.
A big part of the Sharks’ success is their dominance at home. In the last five seasons, San Jose boasts a 127-36-25 home record. That’s a .742 points percentage! Last year the Sharks were 17-2-5. So yeah, they’re good at home.
Torts Out, Vigneault In
To the delight of New York players and fans alike, the Rangers replaced head coach John Tortorella with Alain Vigneault in the offseason. Torts’ demanding style and public shaming of his players finally ran out of favour, as the team fired him a mere three days after their playoff loss to Boston.
Ultimately Vigneault won the job over other reasonable candidates because he was the best fit for New York’s demands. Upper management believe that the team is a winner, so they brought in someone with both a winning resume, and a plan to take the Rangers to the next level.
The challenge for the team will be learning Vigneault’s offensive system, and it may take some time. However, most believe that Vigneault’s plan of activating the defence and matching up lines against the opposition will suit the Rangers well.
What have we seen so far?
San Jose has picked up where they left off last year, which is to say, they look like a talented and cohesive unit. They’re 2-0-0, with a pair of 4-1 victories. Logan Couture, who just re-upped for a five year- $30mil deal, leads the team in points. While Anti Niemmi has a .958 sv% to start the season.
New York has only played one game thus far and in it they lost 4-1 in a fairly ugly contest against the Phoenix Coyotes. The defence looked sloppy and Hank Lundqvist had a bit of an off-night. But it’s only 1/82nd of the way into the season, so patience Rangers fans.
In the silver lining department, Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal looked comfortable coming off a horrific eye injury from last year. Additionally, Captain Ryan Callahan, who didn’t play against the Coyotes, will be in the line-up Tuesday night.
Rangers need to dig deep
Not only are the Rangers getting a crash course in Alain Vigneault’s offense and matchup based system, but they’re doing it on the road against tough opponents. Tonight they play the LA Kings- who won the cup two years ago and lost to Chicago in last year’s conference finals. Directly after the game, the Rangers board a plane to San Jose and play Sharks tomorrow night. C’est la vie.
The line opened with the Sharks -159, which is hard to really like on either side. Watch for it to swing in San Jose’ favour, especially if the Rangers pull one out tonight in LA.
If you are buying New York, consider taking the under on 5 goals. These two teams were 4th and 6th respectively last year in goals against. Coming off back to back games, the Rangers won’t have the legs for a high paced shootout.