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.
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.
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