It's been four days since the Rangers' season-opening 4-1 loss in Phoenix, and the players and coaches are ready to put that game in the rearview mirror and move on, which is exactly what they will do Monday night when they skate against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center. Monday's contest will begin a stretch of four games in six nights on the road for the Rangers, who have played the fewest games of any team in the league through the first week of the season.
The three days off in LA have served the team well. Off the ice there has been much time to bond, including a pair of team dinners. On the ice there were a pair of high-tempo practices, where much attention was paid to the special teams. And perhaps most importantly the three days between games afforded Ryan Callahan sufficent time to prove he is healthy and able to make his season debut on Monday night following off-season shoulder surgery. An extremely important cog in all the Rangers do---not to mention the team's emotional leader---Callahan's absence has been felt in obvious, and not so obvious, ways throughout the pre-season and start to the regular season. Certainly the Rangers are a better team with Callahan in the lineup, especially when considering that he plays in every key situation at even strength and on special teams.
Arron Asham will also make his season debut on Monday, his physical presence and willingness much needed against a Kings team that features a string of big, rugged forwards and defensemen. In fact Asham, Derek Dorsett, and Dominic Moore---not to mention Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, and Callahan---will play big roles on Monday as the Rangers look to match and/or supercede the physicality of the Kings. Wtih Asham in the lineup, rookie Jesper Fast will be a healthy scratch one game after he acquitted himself quite well while making his NHL debut against the Coyotes.
Coming off a subpar pre-season defensively, the Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will look to jointly raise their level of play against a Los Angeles team that is not only very rugged, but one that is extremely skilled, as well. Turnovers and getting beat in front of their own net cost the Rangers dearly against the Coyotes, two areas which need to be cleaned up before facing the Kings. Lundqvist, who owns a career 2.94 goals against average in six games against the Kings, also needs to be more sharp. He, perhaps more than any Ranger, might benefit the most from the upcoming busy stretch of hockey to fine tune his in-game play.
The Kings enter play with a win and a loss over their first two games of the season. They opened with two straight on the road, a season-opening 3-2 win in Minnesota followed 24 hours later by a 5-3 defeat in Winnipeg. Jeff Carter, who notched a couple of points in the Kings 4-1 pre-season win in Las Vegas against the Rangers two weekends ago, has scored two of LA's five goals, so far. Monday will mark the Kings home opener at the Staples Center, the second straight game in which the Rangers will have to help a team open its own building. Last Thursday the Blueshirts allowed the Coyotes to ride the momentum of their pre-game ceremony when Phoenix scored just 3:36 into the game. That can not happen again if the Rangers plan on emerging victorious.
Last year the Kings won 19 games on home ice, the most in the National Hockey League, posting an imposing 19-4-1 mark at the Staples Center. That impressive home-ice play followed on the heels of the Kings nearly unbeatable play at home during their run to the 2012 Stanley Cup. Needless to say the Rangers have their work cut out for them Monday night.
After the contest in Los Angeles, the Rangers head directly to San Jose to visit the Sharks on Tuesday night. They then will skate against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday before facing the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, concluding their busy week of hockey.