New York, NY – The New York Rangers will open the 2016-17 NHL season with a rivalry game against the crosstown New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
Both New York teams battled it out last season with the Islanders finishing one point under the Rangers despite taking the season series.
With two straight 100 point seasons and the growing feeling of decline for the Rangers, a win against the Islanders will be a huge morale boost for the blueshirts and good way to kickstart the season.
Defense will be a major concern for the Rangers heading into this game. Islanders captain John Tavares may have had a down season but stepped up his game in the playoffs, specifically in game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Florida Panthers.
Dan Girardi and Marc Staal will need to start their rebound season right away in order to keep his +/- on the negative side. Very little separated both teams offensively last year, meaning that shutting down Tavares is a top priority. Should he find his way back into his 2014 form, the Rangers could find themselves in trouble.
Seven Defensemen is All They Need
Still, Alain Vigneault isn’t feeling the defensive crunch. The Rangers head coach will step into the season opener with seven defensemen. Expect Ryan McDonagh to be paired with Dan Girardi in an attempt to reinvigorate the high-priced defender.
Both Girardi and Staal are essential to the team’s success this season and part of captain McDonagh’s job will be to get them back into the groove.
The end all be all in regards to the Rangers defense will be Lundqvist. Henrik had a fantastic World Championships with Sweden and hopes to carry that form into the season opener. Despite what felt like a down year, Lundqvist was still below a 3.00 in GAA.
At 34 years of age, there is a belief that the decline is coming. However, Lundqvist has yet to show long term signs and should be the strongest part of New York’s defense.
Nash Relishes in Assistant Captain Position
Rick Nash joins Derek Stefan, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi as Rangers assistant captain. The star forward has been criticized at times but also been a key cog in what has made the Rangers successful over the past few seasons.
“It’s an honor to whenever you get represented with a letter – especially for an organization that’s had some many good leaders through the years,” said Nash. “It’s an honor to wear.”