A look at what awaits the Rangers in week two of the season.
Week one of the New York Rangers’ 2021-22 season is in the books and the Blueshirts finished it up with a different result in each of their first three games.
They suffered an ugly 5-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in their season-opener, then lost 3-2 to the Dallas Stars in overtime in their home opener, and ended the week on a high note by beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in their first trip to Canada in over a year.
The Rangers have looked like a much better team under new head coach Gerard Gallant than they did under David Quinn not too long ago and, to go even further, have improved on a game-by-game basis, so far.
They look like they’re in a decent spot, but it hasn’t been smooth-sailing. There’s nothing like some good old fashioned Rangers drama coming at the best time.
Top prospect Vitaly Kravtsov, who made his long-awaited NHL debut in March after a rocky journey since being drafted, was surprisingly sent to the AHL to begin the season but refused the assignment, resulting in a suspension.
He’s been given permission to speak to other teams regarding a trade and several teams have already shown interest. Given the fact that Pavel Buchnevich’s departure thinned the team’s RW group, issues with Kravtsov weren’t ideal.
To make the RW situation even worse, Kaapo Kakko left Saturday’s game against Montreal with an injury and was later placed on the IR. Prior to that, 2C Ryan Strome was ruled out with a COVID-19 protocol-related reason.
So, the Rangers have looked better and better on the ice in each game and are in good shape heading into week two, but the top-six is going to be depleted.
The good news is, this shouldn’t be too tough of a week for them. The Rangers will be taking on a very good Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday, during which superstar Auston Matthews will make his season debut.
After that, things aren’t too bad for New York. They head to Nashville to face the Predators on Thursday and then end their week back in Canada to face the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in a matinee game.
At Maple Leafs, 10/18
This should be the Rangers’ toughest game of the week and maybe even their toughest game of the season, so far.
The Maple Leafs are an all-around strong team who have not only looked good to begin the season, but will be making a great group even better when Matthews makes his season debut against New York. This is going to be the best offense the Rangers have faced.
That’s a little concerning given the fact that they haven’t been great defensively and have relied on their star goalie Igor Shesterkin to come up with big saves more often than not.
The Rangers have conceded more goals than they’ve scored in this young season, something that could be especially problematic against such an offense as Toronto’s.
This is how the Rangers will line up against the Maple Leafs on Monday:
It also isn’t guaranteed that Shesterkin gets the start in net. Aside from the fact that Shesterkin has played two games in a row, Alexandar Georgiev has fantastic career numbers against Toronto.
Georgiev has been declining quite significantly over the past couple of seasons and looked dreadful in the Rangers’ season-opener against the Capitals, but is a certified brick-wall in net whenever he plays the Maple Leafs and New York Islanders.
Is not giving him the start as well as Shesterkin a rest in this game a mistake?
The defensive pairing of K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba will be one to watch in this game. The two haven’t looked particularly good together, even when the remainder of the team plays well.
In Saturday’s game against Montreal, when most of their teammates played good hockey, Miller and Trouba struggled and were the Rangers’ two worst players, respectively.
How will they fare against an even better offense? They have the potential to be huge x-factors for the Rangers and could lead them to victory or defeat.
Players to watch based on career numbers vs. Toronto:
Chris Kreider: 19 GP, 5 G, 18 PTS
Kreider has averaged nearly a point per game in his career against the Maple Leafs. He’s off to a flying start, having scored three goals through three games this season and has been one of the Rangers’ best players.
His transition to RW has clearly been quite smooth, and he should be dangerous on Monday night.
Artemiy Panarin: 13 GP, 4 G (2 PP), 16 PTS
The Rangers’ best player and usually one of the best players in the world hasn’t looked too great to begin the season, but that could change in Toronto.
Panarin’s whopping 16 points in 13 career games against the Maple Leafs are encouraging as he heads into Monday’s game and are cause for optimism.
He also has never gone four games without a goal in his entire career. He’s at three right now. Watch for him to potentially add another power play goal to his resume.
Jacob Trouba: 12 GP, 2 G (1 PP), 7 PTS
It’s unclear how well Trouba will play in his own zone against Toronto’s elite offense, but he’s done well enough against them offensively for fans to believe he can get his first points of the season on Monday.
As we mentioned, Trouba has the potential to be one of the team’s most important players in this big game, and his career numbers against them are a big reason why.
At Nashville Predators, 10/21
The Predators are known for being a defensively-sound team, something that has come at the expense of good offense. However, to start the season, the Predators have been scoring, but not defending very well.
This should come as good news for the Rangers. The Predators offense, however good it may be, isn’t as dangerous as some other offenses the Rangers have faced or will be facing.
Scoring and playing good enough defense against the Predators shouldn’t be the most difficult task for the Rangers.
Players to watch based on career numbers vs. Nashville:
Artemiy Panarin: 15 GP, 4 G (2 PP), 14 PTS
Panarin has registered almost a point per game against the Predators throughout his career. This is more good news regarding the superstar and could be an indication of big things to come for him this week.
The hope is that Panarin can take advantage of a defense that’s been underperforming.
Mika Zibanejad: 12 GP, 1 G (PP), 11 PTS
Like Panarin, Mika Zibanejad is just one shy of averaging a perfect point per game in his career against Nashville. Zibanejad has been getting on the scoresheet this season and should really keep it up against the Predators, who he likes to play.
at Ottawa Senators, 10/23
The Senators were one of the worst teams in the NHL last season, but are off to a pretty great start. Granted, it’s unlikely that this is sustainable, but they’re playing great hockey against really good teams and the Rangers can’t afford to take this game lightly.
The Rangers will have the task of slowing down the red-hot Chris Tierney, who’s stepping up in the absence of the team’s best player, Brady Tkachuk.
Tkachuk will be with the Senators come Saturday, though, so the Rangers’ defense will need to focus on him and Tierney. As long as the Rangers can play a defensively strong game, they should be in good shape.
Players to watch based on career numbers vs. Ottawa:
Dryden Hunt: 3 GP, 1 G, 3 PTS
The sample size is small and there’s no guarantee he even plays (although it’s likely), but Dryden Hunt has averaged a point per game in all three of his career games against the Senators.
Hunt hasn’t been great to begin his NHL career and has benefited from injuries to his teammates as well as the Kravtsov situation. If this is still the case come Saturday, the game against Ottawa could change things for him.
He’s clearly achieved success against the Senators and the hope is that he can keep it up this time around.
Artemiy Panarin: 13 GP, 4 G (3 PP), 13 PTS
It seems like Panarin has had immense success against every team he’s ever played. He’s averaged a point per game against the Senators throughout his career and has scored three of his four goals against them on the man-advantage.
Again, look for him to do damage against Ottawa, especially on the power play.
Mika Zibanejad: 7 GP, 7 G (2 PP), 9 PTS
Seven games aren’t a lot, but Zibanejad has had immense success against his former team. He has a fantastic nine points in seven games as well as an incredible seven goals. Zibanejad will surely be a player to pay attention to on Saturday afternoon.