Here we go again – another year of NY’s best sports rivalry. One that some people think has a pair of teams going in opposite directions. Maybe this past weekend seems to agree with that, but let’s pump the brakes on writing off the Rangers. They certainly got worked by the Jackets & in their home opener against the Leafs – but until AV figures out who will fill out the bottom 6 (Fast & JT Miller will sit tonight while Ryan Malone gets a look) and they get healthy up top (Zuccarello will be back while Stepan hopes to return early next month) the Blueshirts just need to tread water. Here’s what tonight’s lines are shaping up to be:
#NYR morning skate lines: Duclair-MSL-Nash Kreider-Brassard-Stempniak Hagelin-Hayes-Zuccarello Malone-DMoore-Glass.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) October 14, 2014
While it’s disappointing that Miller still has yet to figure out the pro game & the Brass/Zucc duo came out of the gates flat, the stars have been doing work. New daddy Rick Nash is finishing, MSL has held his own filling in up the middle and Kreider’s been putting his stamp on every game, one way or another. The Rangers are still looking for their first PPG on the year though & will have to find it without QB Dan Boyle, but expect to see Malone parked in front of Halak looking to change that against an Isles PK that’s failed in 4 of 9 opportunities. The big winger is just 2 years removed from a 20-goal season (in just 68 games) and, in my opinion, is a much better fit for a 4th line role than Fast provided he’s got something left in the tank. Regardless, there’s still plenty of time for pieces to gel and the Blueshirts to get back on track. Shutting down everyone’s favorite breakout team would be a good start.
I hope the Islanders hype is legitimized. The rivalry is at its finest when both teams are successful, and it certainly looks like their collection of first round picks is panning out. Tavares & Okposo have already proven themselves, but Brock Nelson & Ryan Strome are teaming up to give the Isles some secondary support. Still, the biggest impact on their 2-0 start is easily Boston throwaway Johnny Boychuk. He’s instantly become the Islanders top defenseman, anchor on special teams and an offensive weapon no one saw coming. Boychuk will cool off on the stat sheet, but he and Halak are excellent additions to a squad that gave up almost a full goal/game more than the Rangers last year. They’re gonna be better. They’ll probably sneak into the postseason. What they won’t do is leapfrog the Blueshirts, and I expect the King to remind them that tonight.
P.S. – If you’re in the Garden tonight, buy this man a beer.