After suffering a heartbreaking defeat in overtime to the Dallas Stars, the Rangers are north of the border for the first time since the play-in bubble to take on the Montreal Canadiens (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG).
|20th||NHL Standing Rank||25th|
The Rangers home opener got off to a rocky start after falling behind 2-0 early in the second period. It looked like it was going to be opening night deja vu but that quickly changed for the better when the switch was turned on. For the remainder of the second period, the Rangers flat-out dominated the game and tied the game up. The pace of play was very quick and every line was sustaining offensive zone pressure. That was a perfect example of how head coach Gerard Gallant’s teams play and what he expects out of his teams. Ultimately, Dallas was able to break New York’s hearts in overtime despite losing starting goalie Braden Holtby due to dehydration in the third period.
“They score that second goal and you’re saying, ‘Here we go again.’ But, no, we bounced back,” said Gallant. “I knew we weren’t going to collapse tonight in front of our fans in our building. They came back hard and we got our noses dirty a little bit in the offensive zone.”
The Blueshirts player of the game was Adam Fox. Fox controlled the game and it felt like he never left the ice for the last 35 minutes. He showed everyone how elite of a skater he is and his ability to hold onto the puck and create offensive chances. The reigning Norris Trophy winner is off to an excellent start to the season.
Gallant’s men must take the positives from Dallas and try to replicate them for 60 minutes. They start a four-game road trip with three games taking place in Eastern Canada and an odd game between those three games in Nashville. While the schedule makers did the Blueshirts dirty with some extra travel, that won’t be near the top of their concerns as Ryan Strome will miss Saturday night’s game due to a COVID-19 protocol-related absence. It’s not clear if Strome has tested positive with COVID-19 or was just in close contact with an individual who has tested positive. Gallant said the entire team would be vaccinated by the beginning of the season so there is hope Strome could be available as early as Monday. Greg McKegg was called up from Hartford and will play in an emergency situation.
With Strome out of the lineup expect a shakeup in the Rangers middle-six. Filip Chytil will likely get the first chance to replace Strome on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko. There is a good chance the Rangers will play Barclay Goodrow at center tonight as Blais appears to be ready to return to his spot on the third line.
Kakko will be given the opportunity to join the top power-play unit. This will give the power play which has been pretty lackluster to start the season a different look. As a lefty on the right-wing, Kakko will give the Rangers a second one-timer option to go with Mika Zibanejad.
Saturday night’s game will serve as a homecoming for Alexis Lafreniere. The Quebec native grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan and will get the chance to make his professional debut inside the historic Bell Centre. Due to the pandemic, the Rangers didn’t get the opportunity to play Montreal last season making this the first time Lafreniere will play near his hometown.
Igor Shesterkin is expected to be back in goal for the Rangers. The Russian native made 23 saves for the Blueshirts during the overtime defeat against Dallas. The 25-year-old was handed a four-year contract in the future and is the man the Rangers hope can lead them to the promise land.
Opponent: Montreal Canadiens
Montreal enters the game with two regulation defeats on the season. The Canadiens were defeated 2-1 in their opener against Toronto and thrashed by the Buffalo Sabres 5-1. Their season as started off very similar to the Blueshirts season including an embarrassing performance and a one-goal defeat. Tonight will be their home opener and they will play in front of a packed Bell Centre with no restrictions for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Already one of the toughest arenas to play in will be that much louder and rocking. This factor alone will make it a true test for the young Rangers.
The Canadiens went on a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Finals but ultimately came up short to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Montreal’s run to the finals was very impressive and eye-catching despite playing in the weakest division. Montreal made a nice 3-1 comeback against Toronto and their first-round demons, followed by a sweep of the Winnipeg Jets. They continued into America where they were just flat out the better team against a strong Vegas side. Their Cinderella run came to an end at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning who went on to repeat as champions.
However, this is not the same Canadiens team that went to the finals as they are missing two enormous pieces to their team. Captain Shea Weber is expected to miss most or all of the season at the minimum with lingering injuries to his ankle, knee, and thumb. In fact, the 36-year-old has so much wear and tear on his body that he may even consider retiring. With his enormous contract heavily front-loaded, Weber will only make about a million or so each season and may decide the risk of further injury isn’t worth it.
And if not having Weber was bad enough – the heart and soul of Montreal, Carey Price is currently undergoing a leave of absence for his mental health and is unavailable. Price is loved by Montreal like Henrik Lundqvist is loved by New York City. With Price out of the lineup, the crease in Montreal belongs to Jake Allen. Allen has been a starter in St. Louis and was a very reliable backup when asked to play that role. The-31-year-old allowed two goals in defeat to Toronto for his only start of the season. The Canadian native is expected to get the start in between the pipes for the Canadiens.
Matt’s What to Watch:
My what to watch for tonight is the start of the game/the first goal of the game. The Rangers have conceded the first goal in each of the first two games. They started average in both games but they have yet to come out with that intensity and jump in their play. With a sold-out Bell Centre and it being the home opener, the atmosphere will be electric and this will truly present a tough task for the Rangers. The Blueshirts will need a fast start and play a complete game if they hope to silence the crowd and play the role of spoiler.