Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit the Rangers (2-6-0, 4 pts) not only face-off in an Original Six clash with the Red Wings (6-4-1, 13 pts), but they will also close out a season-opening nine-game road trip which has been far from a smooth ride. Once Saturday's game is final the Rangers will have closed out the longest road trip to start a season in franchise history, and only the second road trip of nine games at any point of the season in club history. There will be no tears shed once the road trip is finally over and the team can set its sights on Monday's home opener at the completely-transformed Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers have lost six of their first eight games on the trip, including two straight and five of their last six heading into Saturday's game with the Red Wings. Struggling at both ends of the ice, the Rangers have scored only 12 goals in eight games---five of those off the stick of Brad Richards---and the team has a goal differential of minus-19, worst in the league. Along the way they also lost their top goal-scoring threat Rick Nash and team captain Ryan Callahan to injury. All Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist also has been felled by the injury bug, though he might be close to a return---possibly even Saturday night---after missing only one game, so far.
In that game Lundqvist did not dress for due to an unspecificied injury---Thursday's 2-1 loss in Philadelphia---rookie Cam Talbot provided a spark of hope with a 25-save outing in his NHL debut. Without the safety net of a veteran back up goalie now that Martin Biron has retired, the Rangers are anxious for Talbot to prove that he can handle NHL-caliber hockey and be able to spell Lundqvist 15 or more times the rest of the season to keep the Rangers No. 1 goalie as fresh as possible. Certainly Talbot passed his first test on Thursday, and he might get a stiffer test Saturday if he starts against Detroit.
One area head coach Alain Vigneault has been pleased about recently is the Rangers improved play in their own end. After some fairly shocking breakdowns in losses to the Sharks, Ducks, and Blues, for example, the Rangers have worked diligently to lower the number of scoring chances in their last three games against the Capitals, Devils, and Flyers. Still a turnover on the power play led directly to Philly's first goal on Thursday, and a failed clearing attempt preceded the Flyers' second goal. The mistakes are way down, but the Rangers are still getting burned by the ones they are making.
Since the team did not practice on Friday, it is not known what changes---if any---Vigneault plans for his lineup Saturday night. Mats Zuccarello was a healthy scratch against the Flyers, but Vigneault said any number of players could have been the scratch instead of Zuccarello based on the lack of scoring throughout the lineup. It would seem the top line will remain intact after Chris Kreider played a strong game along side Richards---who scored the Rangers' lone goal---and center Derek Stepan. It would also seem that 20 year-old J.T. Miller would stay among the top six forwards after a solid two-way performance against the Flyers, which included a goal disallowed because he supposedly kicked the puck into the net.
After a 6-2-0 start to the season, the Red Wings are winless (0-2-1) in their last three games, and were thumped on home ice by the Ottawa Senators 6-1 on Wednesday night. Known for their high-powered offense in the past, Detroit has just 25 goals scored through 11 games, with only three in their last contests. Despite a winning record, the Red Wings own a disappointing minus-five goal differential in the early stages of the season, their first since joining the Eastern Conference following off-season re-alignment.
Those recent offensive struggles prompted head coach Mike Babcock to juggle his lines, separating star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in order to spread the offensive wealth throughout the lineup. Zetterberg, in his second season as Detroit's captain, leads the club with six goals and 12 points, while Datsyuk ranks second with five goals and 11 points. Veteran newcomer Daniel Alfredsson has a team-best eight assists already, and defenseman Niklas Kronwall is 1-6-7 in nine games played to date.
Jimmy Howard has struggled a bit in goal, with a 2.60 goals against average, and former Toronto Maple Leaf Jonas Gustavsson has stepped up with extra opportunities. Gustavsson has a 2.12 GAA and .937 save percentage, and has won each of his three starts. He also was named the NHL's First Star of the Week last week.
The Rangers host the Canadiens in their MSG return on Monday and will play five of their next six games after Saturday on home ice. Starting on October 28th---this upcoming Monday---the Rangers will play outside of the New York area just twice---in Columbus and Montreal--- before heading to Dallas on November 21st.