W2W4: Rangers vs. Sabres

To prep for the Rangers' season opener in Buffalo Saturday, here are three points to keep an eye on when the action gets underway.

Will Derek Stepan step up?

The rookie has had some electrifying moments in the offensive zone, but his preseason minus-4 rating shows he could spend some more time backchecking (or at least jump on the ice at more opportune moments). Given the Rangers’ lack of scoring options, I’m sure they’ll turn a blind eye to some growing pains, but this is an area for improvement for the Blueshirts' top rookie.

The scoreboard

To paraphrase the Yoda-like lacrosse coach from “American Pie,” you don’t score until you score in the regular season. The Rangers’ preseason scoring pace (four or more goals in five of six games) means nothing if the team can’t continue it when it counts.

Against Buffalo, with Vezina-winning goalie Ryan Miller and Calder-winning D-man Tyler Myers, the Rangers will face a stiff defensive test. If they can light the lamp more than three times against the Sabres, it’s a good sign they’ll be able to produce against anyone. The Blueshirts should continue to adhere to head coach John Tortorella’s urging to fire at will, even from bad angles. With blue-collar guys like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle and others crashing for the rebounds, just throwing the puck on net is a strong strategy to generate offense against a staunch D.

The consistency of Erik Christensen

This point will obviously extend beyond the first game. Though Christensen will start as the team’s top-line center, he’ll have to produce to hold down the spot. Given the team’s desire for secondary scoring, I doubt a strong showing by Stepan on the Avery-Fedotenko line will get Tortorella to juggle the lines. But if Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov can’t get on track with Christensen as their pivot, I’d expect a change sooner rather than later.

Afternoon Links

Larry Brooks says the Rangers don’t have the star power to compete for the Cup.

King Henrik is eyeing a crown. And it looks an awful lot like the Stanley Cup.

Marc Staal fit in some charity work before the opener.

LoHud’s Rick Carpiniello picks the Rangers sixth in the East.

TSN sage Bob McKenzie lists his top 10 lower-profile rookies that could make a big impact and includes Derek Stepan. It’s amusing to hear Stepan’s name and “lower-profile” in the same sentence. Around these parts, Stepan’s profile is on par with the Chrysler Building.

Vinny Prospal is being held off the ice until at least the middle of October.