I guess you could call this a Season Preview but we’ll just call it the Game Preview. Also, today is my birthday!
Back on October 5, 2005, the New York Rangers played a game for the first time in over a year. The NHL was finally back after a lock-out that led to the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.
It had been 8 years since the Rangers had last made the playoffs–when they lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals–and the idea that the Rangers were going to end the drought was ludicrous. That year, almost every “expert” had picked the Rangers to finish 30th in the NHL.
Honestly, did you have much faith in that team? Look at the lineup they sported for the 2005-2006 season opener against the Flyers:
Admit it. You looked at that team and thought, “We’re screwed!” But Slats was keeping his word; the Rangers were rebuilding. We couldn’t expect greatness in the first year. Honestly, I would have been content no matter what happened that season. But what happened that year stunned everybody.
The Rangers sat in first place in the Atlantic Division until the very last day of the season when they were passed by both the Devils and the Flyers. More importantly, for the first time since 1997, the Rangers had made the playoffs and Jaromir Jagr broke the Rangers single season records for both goals (54) and points (123).
Now fast forward to this season. The Rangers come into the game with a 2-0-0 record with two wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning last weekend in Prague.
Here is the line up that the Rangers sported for the first two games of the season:
Only two, yes two, players from the 2005 opening night roster are still on the team. Only one of them actually played in that game! Petr Prucha was called up from Hartford soon after the start of the season and stayed up for most of it. But still that is only 3 players that remain from the October 5, 2005 to October 4, 2008. Speaking of Petr Prucha, of all the players currently on the roster, he has the most games played and most goals scored as a Ranger.
Looking ahead to this season, the Rangers are a younger, faster, more offensive minded team that can still shut things down when needed. The problem is that almost every offseason move the Rangers made is counting on the player playing better because of a change in scenery. So far, Naslund and Redden have scored goals. Zherdev has shown how wonderfully he can control the puck but has not finished. He does have the potential to set up many goals for Brandon Dubinsky. I really hope Zherdev doesn’t end up like Matt Cullen did with the Rangers.
There were some questions heading into this season about Dubinsky. Would he have the dreaded sophomore slump? Would he be able to produce without Jagr on his wing? We’re only 2 games into the season, but Dubinsky doesn’t look like he’s going to hit the proverbial wall any time soon. He was arguably the best player on the Rangers throughout the Preseason and has skated very well with new linemate Nikolai Zherdev.
Some other young players that must prove themselves are Nigel Dawes, Ryan Callahan, and believe it or not, Petr Prucha. Dawes and Callahan will most likely thrive in a faster and more offensive minded environment. As will Prucha who is scratched for tonights game. But Tom Renney has to give Prucha more ice time. At least some more time on the Power Play.
As for any predictions, I think the Rangers will fight for control of the Atlantic with the Penguins for the majority of the Season. They will probably end up finishing in second place in the division which is good enough for 4th or 5th in the Eastern Conference.
Tonight, the Rangers will hold their true home opener against the Chicago Blackhawks. This team made a big splash in the free agency market by signing Brian Campbell to an 8 year contract for about $56.8 million. They also improved in goal with the addition of Cristobal Huet. This team is young and looking to prove themselves. They were very close to making the playoffs last season and you can be sure that New Captain Jonathan Toews and Sophomore Patrick Kane will skate circles around our defense at least once.
Hopefully the Rangers can find their scoring and break out against Huet who they have been fairly good against in recent memory.
I will be at the game and I might snap some pictures. I’ll post them later tonight if I can along with the recap.
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