November 30th is a date most Rangers fans, perhaps some of the players, and likely both coaches, circled on their calendars when the NHL schedule was released over the summer. The Rangers vs. the Canucks, Madison Square Garden, a 2:00 PM matinee, the first meeting between these two teams since, in essence, swapping coaches during the off-season. Alain Vigneault's first regular season game coaching his new team, the Rangers, against the team he coached to great heights for seven seasons. John Tortorella's first return to The Garden, where he coached the Rangers to much success for four and a half years, since being relieved of his duties last June. A tasty post-Thanksgiving treat for hockey fans to say the least.
While on the surface the storyline revolves around the two coaches---no matter how much each downplays this game as "just another game"---the truth for both teams is that the Rangers (13-13-0, 26 pts) and Canucks (13-9-5, 31 pts) are both hungry for a win Saturday afternoon and desperate to find consistency in their respective games. Vigneault seemed to be the angriest he has been all season long following the Rangers 3-2 loss in Boston Friday afternoon, stating many of his players provided a "B Effort" on a day the Rangers knew they needed to be at their best, while also lamenting the fact that his team has not been able to play on a consistent level with its effort and execution yet this season. On the other side Tortorella has becaome a bit more testy as Vancouver has struggled through a 2-4-3 stretch entering play today.
Coaches aside, the Rangers will play 11 of their next 12 games on home ice and need to begin to make Madison Square Garden a tough place for the opposition to play. In theory it would seem playing nearly an entire month at home would help the Rangers find consistency in their game, a tremendous opportunity to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference, where they currently sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division. However the reality to this point is that the Rangers are just 4-5-0 on home ice to date this season, and they have lost their last three home games. They will need to be much, much better at The Garden moving forward, and will have a tough test today in an emotional game against a Canucks team that is a solid 8-4-2 on the road.
Earlier in the week Vigneault stated that he would rotate his goalies this weekend in the back-to-back games, but left open the possibility that he could play Lundqvist in both games. Lundqvist started Friday in Boston, stopping 25 of 28 shots and surrendering a pair of goals as the Rangers let a 2-1 third period lead disipate into a 3-2 defeat. It was the first time in 102 games that the Rangers did not record at least one point when leading after two periods of play, having gone 95-0-6 in the previous 101 such games. It was not the ideal way to return to The Garden to face their former coach Saturday.
Vancouver likely will go with Roberto Luongo in goal, with the Canucks coming off a 5-2 win in Ottawa Thursday night. That is only one of four victories for the Canucks in the month of November after Tortorella's squad shot out to a 9-4-1 start to the season. Perhaps the highlight from the early portion of the season, so far, for the Canucks was the team's signing of the Sedin twins---Henrik and Daniel---to long-term contracts, thus keeping them from off-season unrestricted free agency. Henrik Sedin currently ranks 11th in the NHL with 27 points and is fifth with 20 assists, while brother Daniel has 24 points on 9-15-24 scoring.
The Rangers and Canucks met once during the pre-season out in Vancouver and Tortorella's Canucks took it to Vigneault's Rangers 5-0. The Blueshirts Faithful certainly hope that today's contest does not resemble that late September clash in any way, shape or form.