OPENING FACE OFF
The Rangers begin the 2014-15 season Thursday night in St. Louis against the Blues. The Blueshirts then head to Columbus Saturday the 11th, before playing their home opener at Madison Square Garden Sunday night the 12th against Toronto. The team hasn’t opened a season at home since 2007.
The short, two-game road trip to start the campaign is a lot nicer than last year; in 2013-14 the Rangers played their first nine games of the season on the road [going 3-6-0], while the Garden was undergoing renovations.
After a stirring run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the team made a number of changes to the roster in the off-season. The revolving door saw Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman leave, and saw the team pick up veterans Dan Boyle and Lee Stempniak.
But the core of the team remains largely the same. The offense will still be led by Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, and Derek Stepan. When you combine St. Louis’ stats last year, from his 62 games with Tampa Bay and his 19 with New York, he had 30 goals, his most since 2010-11. He added eight goals in the playoffs, tops on the team. It will be great to have the 39-year-old in the Rangers lineup for an entire season.
Zuccarello was the team’s leading scorer last year, and had 40 assists last year [tied for most on the team]. He is the team’s most electric skater night in and night out.
Nash led the team with 26 goals in 2013-14, which was five better than the 21 he tallied in 2012-13, but after eight straight seasons of 30+ goals with Columbus, his two arguably-subpar seasons with New York have made him a very polarizing player. He will have to score early and often this season to keep from hearing boos from the Garden faithful.
Stepan is as tough a player as there is in the NHL; he had his jaw broken in the playoffs and only missed a game! But he will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season with a broken leg suffered in the pre-season. He played all 82 regular-season games last year, and his presence will be missed in October and November.
His loss has forced a little roster juggling by General Manager Glen Sather and Head Coach Alain Vigneault. One fresh new face on the team is 19-year-old Anthony Duclair, who was named to the 20-man roster Monday. He scored 50 goals last season in junior hockey, and adds some much-needed speed to the roster. He will be fun to watch.
The defense is anchored by Ryan McDonagh, was who named team captain Monday, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi.
Between the pipes is goalie Henrik Lundqvist, arguably the best player – and most popular player – on the team. The 2014-15 Rangers will succeed or fail based on the kind of season that King Henrik has.
Let’s talk for a moment about who’ll win the Stanley Cup next spring. Any conversation of which teams are the favorites would have to include the Los Angeles Kings [though no team has repeated as Cup champions since Detroit in 1997 and 1998], the Chicago Blackhawks, the Boston Bruins, the Rangers, if it all comes together again, and others like Anaheim, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. Both conferences have a half-dozen teams that could realistically make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Closing thoughts? The NHL season starts Wednesday with four games, and the Rangers take the ice Thursday. Stay tuned for more as the season rolls on. Let’s Go Rangers!