After beating one of the top teams in the Western Conference for their first win of 2013-14, the Rangers (1-1-0, 2 pts) will skate against another difficult Western foe less than 24 hours later when they follow up their tilt Monday against the Los Angeles Kings with one on Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks (2-0-0, 4 pts). After playing with much jump and energy on Monday, the Rangers will be the team playing on back-to-back nights Tuesday while San Jose will be the better rested squad, having last played on Saturday. That shouldn't bother the Rangers too much because they have had great success the past few years in games played on back-to-back nights. Last year the Rangers were 7-4-1 in back-to-backs, splitting the six games played on the back end (3-3-0).
One of the key reasons why the Rangers have been so good in games played on successive nights is the will of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers No. 1 goalie has started on consecutive nights 65 times in his NHL career and he is an incredible 41-17-7 with a 1.94 goals against average and six shutouts in the second game---a simply incredible record of excellence under difficult circumstances. Lundqvist, who stopped 28 of 29 shots in Monday's win over Los Angeles, has not been named Tuesday's starter against the Sharks, but one would expect that with the season just getting underway that Lundqvist would get the call. In four games against the Sharks in his career, Lundqvist is 2-1-0 with a 2.35 goals against average.
It would seem likely that Alain Vigneault would go with the same lineup that played so well together against the Kings. All four lines impressed, while the six defensemen all were solid, as well. Both Ryan Callahan and Taylor Pyatt were nicked up in the Kings game and required facial stitches, but both returned to finish the contest and should be available Tuesday in San Jose. That would mean rookie Jesper Fast and defenseman Justin Falk would be sitting upstairs again.
It will be very interesting to see how Callahan and Derek Stepan will fair in the second game of back-to-backs since neither appeared in any pre-season games and both are still in the process of getting into game shape. Stepan has seen over 19 minutes of ice time in each of the Rangers first two games, and has a pair of assists on his scoring ledger, so far. Callahan played 11:16 in his season debut Monday night, but missed nearly the entire second period while getting stitched up.
Stepan's line with Brad Richards---two goals Monday---and Rick Nash---three assists in two games---has been the Rangers best to date and will draw the most attention from the Sharks, who come in having won each of their first two games after a sixth place finish in the Western Conference a year ago. Long considered a Stanley Cup contender, this might be the last go-round for the core of the Sharks roster as the team has trended downward points-wise since its 117 point campaign in 2008-09.
Veteran star forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau could both be in their final season in San Jose, as could 37 year-old puck-moving defenseman Dan Boyle. Of the three Marleau is off to the best start, having scored two goals already this year for a Sharks team that has posted a pair of 4-1 victories over the Canucks and Coyotes.
Backstopping both wins was 30 year-old goalie Antti Niemi, who won 24 games last season, while posting six shutouts and fashioning a 2.16 goals against average. Niemi was a Vezina Trophy finalist last year, finishing as a runner-up along with Lundqvist to the winner, Sergei Bobrovsky. It would not be a surprise to see Niemi play close to 70 games this season, something the former Stanley Cup winner seemingly would love. Niemi has stopped 43 of 45 shots so far this season.
Tuesday's game will be San Jose's second on home ice this year, marking the first time to date the Rangers do not have to sit through an extended home-opener pre-game ceremony for their opponent.