If the New York Rangers want to end their skid against the New York Islanders, they must find a way to shut down John Tavares.
Whether you root for the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins or the cellar-dwelling Toronto Maple Leafs, all hockey fans have been anxiously waiting to hear three words: hockey is back.
After five months of anxious waiting, Mike “Doc” Emrick and his legendary voice announced those exact words on Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSN to mark the commencement of yet another NHL season.
The long awaited night certainly didn’t disappoint.
The opening of the Rogers Place in Edmonton was certainly a sight to see, as was the Central Division clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues. However, it was the 2016 top overall pick Auston Matthews who stole the show by lighting up the lamp not one, not two, not three, but four times in Ottawa, becoming the first player in NHL history to score four goals in his debut.
Despite all the hype that surrounded last night, hockey fans in the Big Apple can agree that the real excitement will come tonight when the New York Rangers battle rival New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden to open up each of their respective seasons.
Although it is only the season opener, this contest will have a playoff-like atmosphere. Both of these fan bases hate each other and the Blueshirts are looking for revenge after the Isles swept the season series a year ago. MSG is going to be electric, to say the least.
This game will feature a bundle of new faces on both sides. More than ten players are expected to make their debuts for either side, including Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vesey, Andrew Ladd, and Jason Chimera.
Now, although many will be focused on the fresh faces that will appear in this game, this matchup will be decided by the two team captains, John Tavares and Ryan McDonagh.
Tavares, who is coming off yet another impressive year, will likely center the Islanders top line alongside the aforementioned Ladd and Chimera. He is the motor that makes the Islanders run and when he’s playing at an elite level, this team is very dangerous. The former number one overall pick is a threat whenever he has the puck on his stick with his ability to create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
The man who will be given task of shutting him down is Blueshirt’s top dog Ryan McDonagh. The 27-year old is certainly capable of locking down the best of the best, as he has shown in the past. However, McDonagh struggled to shut down top players last year, especially in the playoffs against Sidney Crosby.
For McDonagh, it all starts with getting physical.
When he is at his best, he uses his great speed to stay stride for stride with the opposition. Once the attacker puts his head down, McDonagh uses his body to take the puck away and start the rush the other way.
The way he will run into problems is when he gives Tavares any sort of space to work with. The Isles’ playmaker will beat you when he has the time to survey the ice and make a decision with the puck. McDonagh must stay up in his face and force Tavares to make quick decisions on the ice.
You will see this matchup throughout the game on Thursday night and although it takes all six guys on the ice to contain a guy of Tavares’ caliber, it starts with McDonagh taking care of the individual battle against Tavares, especially considering how poor the Rangers played team defense last year.
So forget about the new guys, Blueshirt’s fans. The key to a 1-0 start begins with shutting down Number 91 in white.