The NHL season is off and running. Through 120 minutes of hockey, we’ve seen the full range of possibilities that may lie ahead for these young Rangers. If they have a lot of nights like last Thursday, we’ll be doing plenty of prospect scouting and mock draft content here at Blue Seat Blogs by April. But if they can consistently put forth efforts like we saw on Saturday night, we’ll be talking about the end of the “build” phase, and the opening of a window of Stanley Cup contention. Realistically, the remaining 54 games will likely fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes as we continue to preview the Rangers on a weekly basis.
This week presents the Rangers with an opportunity to grab two points at home against a team they should finish ahead of in the Eastern Division. This comes before commencing their first road trip with a back-to-back set in Pittsburgh.
Game 3 vs. New Jersey Devils (1-0-1) – Tuesday January 19
Hello Lindy Ruff! The much-maligned former Rangers assistant has the Devils off to a solid start. They played the Bruins close in their season-opening set. They dropped their first game in a shootout before bouncing back with an OT win.
Despite his reputation, it’s common knowledge that Lindy Ruff’s teams are generally poor defensively, though they held their own against Boston. The Devils also have a quality young goaltender in Mackenzie Blackwood, who is capable of stealing a game. The cast of characters in front of Blackwood features the yin to Kaapo Kakko’s yang Jack Hughes. He has already notched three assists in two games. Hughes headlines other young core pieces like Miles Wood, Damon Severson, and Pavel Zacha. Hughes aside, the Devils don’t feature much game-breaking talent, so the Rangers have a decided edge in that department.
The Devils are also in a rebuild, but a good two or even three seasons behind the Rangers. The Rangers are the better team at the moment, and given the games the Rangers have in this preview to come, two points are a must, especially at home.
Prediction: Despite the Blueshirts’ edge in talent, the Devils make it hard on the Rangers, like they did to Boston. In the end, the Rangers get it done with a strong third period and a Zibanejad power play goal to win a tight contest, 3-2.
Games 4 and 5 @ Pittsburgh Penguins (1-2-0) – Friday January 22 and Sunday January 24
The Penguins got AV’d by the Flyers, losing their first two despite out-shooting and out-chancing Philly. They bounced back with a shootout win in Washington, ensuring at least a split of the two-game set.
The Penguins are always a tough task. Under Mike Sullivan, they’ve become a strong defensive team that sucks the life out of opponents. It’s not what you’d expect out of a roster that still features a ton of generational (though aging) talent. The Penguins have great depth, even without the injured Zack Aston-Reese and the newly acquired Kasperi Kapanen, who is out due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols. Still, if the Rangers contain Crosby, Malkin and LeTang, they have a good chance to get out of Pittsburgh with points.
Prediction: The Rangers were a very strong road team last season, and they tend to rise to the challenge in their games against the Penguins. An impressive 5-3 victory will kick off the weekend – and will feature the first NHL goal for Alexis Lafreniere. Unfortunately it’s a little unrealistic to expect these young Rangers to sweep a back-to-back in Pittsburgh. The veteran Penguins will tighten up and beat the Rangers 4-1 on Sunday.
Leave your thoughts on the Rangers preview this week in the comments below.