Finally. Yes, finally, the Rangers (3-6-0, 6 pts) will play a game on home ice, hosting the Montreal Canadiens (6-5-0, 12 pts) Monday night at Madison Square Garden. The team's home opener comes after an exhausting and often-times brutally difficult and frustrating nine-game road trip to begin the 2013-14 season, one that had some incredible lows, but which ended with such a tremendous high Saturday night in Detroit. And it will be the first time the Blueshirts will play in front of their home fans since Game 4 of thr Eastern Conference Semifinals last May---a night that saw Chris Kreider extend their season ith an overtime goal to beat the Bruins.
Thrilled to be back at the completely-transformed Garden, the Rangers will be coming into play Monday having put together their best game of the entire season. The Rangers were dogged in their effort in all three zones of their 3-2 overtime victory Saturday--as evidenced by the extra effort put forth by Mats Zuccarello on the game-tying goal early in the third period, and when Benoit Pouliot sprung Derick Brassard on the game-winning breakaway by outhustling two Red Wings to a loose puck along the boards. The Blueshirts dominated much of the second period, and were as least as good as the Red Wings in the first and third periods, as well, before controlling the overtime session with a collective we-are-not-going-to-lose mentality nd approach.
Three Rangers scored their first goals of the season---Brassard, Pouliot, and Zuccarello--as the club finally received offensive contributions from up and down the lineup, without relying on Brad Richards (5-3-8 scoring so far) to shoulder the load once again. Richards was still good, as was his linemate, Kreider, who was a disrupting force in the offensive zone as he used his great speed and impressive size to his advantage. In truth, contributions came from the enture lineup as the Rangers finished with a season-high 40 shots on goal, led by defenseman Anton Stralman's career-high six.
The Rangers played with an air of desperation, and they passionately battled the Red Wings for every inch of the ice. Alain Vigneault has been trying to goad this type of performance from his team, and while he saw signs of good things coming during Thursday's 2-1 loss in Philadelphia, there's no way he could honestly say that he expected such a dominating performance against Detroit on Saturday, especially without Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, and Carl Hagelin in the lineup.
Lundqvist, who missed the previous two games with an undisclosed injury, is slated to get the start in goal for the Rangers' home opener Monday. He has been back on the ice for the past four days and took part in Sunday's full-team practice at The Garden wihthout issue, and he declared himself ready to go. Third-string goalie Jason Missiaen was returned to the Hartford Wolf Pack late Sunday afternoon, further evidence that Lundqvist will dress on Monday. Meanwhile Cam Talbot, who was very good in making his first two NHL starts Thursday and Saturday---earning hs first NHL win with a 32-save performance in Detroit, will return to his role of Lundqvist's backup, though he most definitely has gained the confidence of both his coaches and teammates with how he played this past week.
In the Canadiens, the Rangers will be facing a team that has lost three of its previous four games overall, but one which has played better on the road than it has on home ice so far this season. The Canadiens are 3-1-0 away from Montreal. winning its last three road games by a combined score of 11-1. On home ice Montreal is just 3-4-0, and they are coming off a five-game homestand in which they produced a losing record.
The Canadiens have a plus-11 goal differential, surrendering only 22 goals through 11 games, while scoring 33. Should those averages hold up over an entire season, the Canadiens will win many more games then they will lose. Though just 5-5-0 in ten starts this season, Carey Price has been terrific between the pipes for Montreal, posting a 2.12 goals against average and .937 save percentage. Price looks to be back on track after a subpar 2013 campaign in which he posted a 2.59 GAA and a save percentage of just .905.
Offensively the Canadiens have had 13 players record at least one goal already this season, nine of whom have scored more than one. Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller, and Brendan Gallagher all have five goals. Combined that Montreal threesome has 15 goals, the same amount the entire Rangers team has scored through nine games this season.
Following Monday's home opener the Rangers play another road contest--though it's hardly much of a trip---visiting the Islanders on Tuesday. After that the Rangers will play four straight games on home ice.