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Rangers open their 90th season at the Garden against the Islanders; Pirri gets the start

Bobby Bevilacqua

rangers-celebrate-a-goal-zib-kreids-9-27

Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images.

After an early exit in the playoffs and a lot of change on the team, the Rangers are finally back in action tonight when they take on the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden.

This marks the first time that the Rangers begin the season at home since 2007, which makes tonight’s game even more exciting.

There’s a chance that the team will have a total of seven players skating for the first time as Rangers, with two players, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich, making their NHL debuts. The fourth line still has not been announced yet, but there’s a good chance it will be a completely different look.

The Islanders had some changes as well. They lost key players like Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin, but they did add some players like Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and some rookies in Anthony Beauvillier and Matthew Barzal.

John Tavares is always a player to keep an eye out for, but former Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd will be playing his first game as an Islander after signing a seven year, $5.5 million contract. Ladd is 30 years old, and signing a big, long term contract means that there will be a lot of pressure on him to produce, especially following the departures of Nielsen and Okposo.

There’s also a lot of pressure on Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome to produce down the middle. Nielsen was a fantastic, consistent 40-50 point player for the Isles and he’ll be missed on the second line. Nelson has scored 20+ goals in each of the last two seasons, and Strome had 50 points in his rookie season, but only 28 last year. Both guys will be counted on in a big way this season.

Jaroslav Halak is expected to start for the Isles despite a recent flu bug. He’s been a thorn in the Rangers side since joining their rivals, winning six straight games for the Islanders over the Rangers. After missing the end of last season with a groin injury, and having hernia surgery in May, Halak was excellent for Team Europe in the World Cup and will look to carry that momentum into this season.

The Rangers have a young, new-look forward group going into this season, and Jeff Gorton has done an excellent job putting together a much better group of guys on the fourth line, at least on paper. Tonight we get to see it come together on the ice.

Mika Zibanejad will be centering the team’s second line with Kreider and Buchnevich on the wings. This was the best looking line in the preseason and it has the potential to be a very high scoring line. Zibanejad has improved his stats every year since entering the NHL, and has scored 20 or more goals in each of the last two seasons, including 51 points last year.

Zibanejad is primed for a breakout season and in my opinion, will lead the team in scoring by the end of the year. He’s a shoot first center with a powerful and accurate shot, a force to be reckoned with on the power play, and he’ll be able to be a playmaker with the talent he has on his line. You’ll be hearing about the “KZB line” a lot this season.

Dan Girardi has to improve. The veteran had a really tough season last year, and looked completely lost on the ice for quite a while. He had been trending downward statistically and in his effectiveness over the past few years, and 2015-16 marked a new low. But there were no real improvements made to the defense, so Girardi is still next to McDonagh. If this team wants any chance of doing well, Girardi has to return to the player he was during the team’s cup run in 2013-14, otherwise McDonagh will be dragged down by his partner’s poor play and the team will suffer as a whole.

Kudos to AV for making the right choice with his forwards. After a spectacular preseason, Brandon Pirri cracked the opening night roster and will make his Rangers debut tonight against the Islanders. Pirri scored four goals and six points in the preseason, and was a danger on the power play as well as even strength because of his tendency to just reign shots on net. He’s an elite shooter statistically, and has already had a 22 goal season just two years ago. After initially saying that he envisioned Pirri as a top-nine guy, Vigneault made the right call to put him in the lineup wherever he fit, and opt for four skill lines. Grabner and Fast will do more than enough defensively, but Pirri brings some real offensive firepower to the bottom six.

The Rangers and the Islanders will face off at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on MSG.

TONIGHT’S LINEUP

Jimmy Vesey-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich

JT Miller-Kevin Hayes-Rick Nash

Michael Grabner-Brandon Pirri-Jesper Fast

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Nick Holden

Brady Skjei-Adam Clendening

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on October 13, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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