Rangers Better Be Ready for Rematch with Bruins

The bad news is the Rangers are winless. The good news it’s only been two games. However, the troublesome news is that the season is only 48 games long and there really isn’t any time for a losing streak.

Mike Miccoli, who covers the Bruins for The Hockey Writers, contributes to this site and also happened to be my roommate for freshman year of college, joined me to talk about what happened between the Rangers and Bruins on Opening Night in Boston and what to expect this season, including their rematch on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Keefe: The first thing I thought of when I heard the lockout was over was that I wouldn’t be able to read your sarcastic tweets about not being able to watch hockey anymore. Actually I take that back. The first thing I thought was “Woooooooooooooooo!” and then I thought about your tweets. After two games I’m not so sure I want hockey back.

The Rangers are 0-2 and for someone who takes regular season losses like season-ending losses (see: my take on the Yankees), this start sucks. The Rangers lost in Boston on Saturday and then were embarrassed at home on Sunday. Henrik Lundqvist was pulled in Game 2 of the year after not being pulled once in 2011-12. He has given up seven goals in two games. I think he gave up seven goals all of last year.

But I’m sure you don’t want to hear me complain. The Patriots were just destroyed at home by the Ravens with a Super Bowl trip on the line and Tom Brady’s legacy took another hit. But hey, at least your hockey team is 2-0 and will be when I walk in the MSG doors for the first time this year on Wednesday night.

Miccoli: Tom Brady is a legend even though he can’t throw the ball and catch it at the same time. You should have learned that last year. But seriously, how are things in New York? Is Torts on the hot seat? Lundqvist demand a trade yet? Think about this for a second: by Thursday morning, the New York Rangers could be 0-3. That’s six percent of the 2013 season completely wasted for a team that so, so many predicted to come out of the East.

Now I know what you’re thinking: it’s early. Of course it is, but when will the Rangers gain traction? For me, the biggest issue is all of the passengers. Guys like Marian Gaborik, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin have been invisible so far. When three of your supposed, All-Star top-six forwards are just watching, that’s a major problem.

The Bruins, on the other hand, have been firing on all cylinders. Did you watch the Winnipeg game? Ondrej Pavelec owes his two posts a steak dinner and a six-pack each for bailing him out so many times. Realistically speaking, the Bruins should have won that game 8-1, maybe even 9-1 if it wasn’t for so many dings. In net, Tuukka Rask is making Bruins’ fans forget about Tim Thomas quicker than they forgot about the lockout once they charged hundreds of dollars to their credit cards for crappy balcony seats.

I just hope the renovations at MSG are complete enough so that Rask doesn’t have to use that excuse on Wednesday.

Keefe: It’s too bad about the Patriots. I was really hoping they would win the AFC Championship and head to their sixth Super Bowl in 12 years. It’s really too bad.

Please don’t bring up the MSG renovations. It was one of the last remaining buildings that had that old-school feel to it and now it looks like every other modern arena on the inside. Sure, the amenities are awesome and the new seats are better than the cheap Metro North-like plastic seats (or the T commuter rail seats for you and I know you’re used to those), but I will miss the look and feel of the old interior. It might as well be the cement block with no character on Causeway Street in Boston. Actually, I take that back. Nothing can be that bad.

You’re right about Gaborik and Kreider and Hagelin. Too many times have they been out there for Sunday Skate watching the play rather than being in the play or trying to make something happen. But you know who hasn’t stood around and watched the play happen? Rick Nash.

When it comes to Nash, I haven’t been this excited for a player’s arrival in New York since Alex Rodriguez in 2004. And that’s either a good thing when you think about the two AL MVPs and arguably the best postseason for anyone ever in 2009. Or it’s a bad thing when you think about the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 postseasons, the admission to using performance-enhancing drugs or any of the 9,817 headlines he made for non-baseball related events.

We’ll get to your Bruins, but after two games of seeing Rick Nash as a Ranger, he has been the player I thought he would be and the player I was willing to trade the whole system for last February. He scored his first goal as a Ranger on Sunday against the Penguins and had several other high-quality scoring chances in the game as well as on Saturday against the Bruins. If his play continues at this level and the rest of the team realizes that the season has started and Derek Stepan and Michael Del Zotto are taking off the first unit on the power play, Nash will have quite the season.

Miccoli: I’m actually elated that Rick Nash ended up in New York since I was getting sick and tired of hearing about how he’d look good in a Bruins uniform for the past year. Little did I know that Glen Sather would be able to frisk Scott Howson in the deal, making it one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory.

Here’s the thing with Nash: I think he’s one of the most overrated players in the NHL. I get that he never had any help in Columbus and the best center he played with was a past-his-prime Sergei Federov but for his $7.8 million cap hit, he’s going to end up as more of a burden than a savior for a Rangers team that’s already pretty well stacked. Sure, he’s a physical player who will help get the momentum going eventually and score a decent number of goals but I think he could crack under the pressure in New York. I mean, he was playing in Columbus and only scored 40-plus goals twice in nine seasons, eclipsing 70-plus points once. ONCE! Want to know who has a similar trend in point totals in fewer seasons? David Krejci. And he’s not even the Bruins’ No. 1 center.

If Nash couldn’t pad his stats in Columbus where he was the entire show, I don’t know how he could in New York when there are plenty of other scorers who could pose a threat to opposing teams. I should probably mention his postseason experience of a whopping four games since 2002-03, but I’d rather you not go Andy Bernard on me and punch a wall this early in the season.

But I guess when you can acquire an All-Star player who is consistent for spare parts that you were looking to get rid of anyway, it’s not a terrible thing.

Keefe: “Newsflash. It’s not funny. In fact, it’s pretty freakin’ unfunny!”

Woah, woah, woah. I didn’t think the conversation was going to go this way. Overrated? Overrated? Overrated? I feel like Derek Zoolander screaming, “One look?! One look?! One look?!” “Rick Nash” and “overrated” should never be used in the same sentence. This falls in line with my unnecessary Dennis Seidenberg bashing last week

As a 19-year old, Nash led the NHL in goals with 41 goals for Columbus. That team finished the year with 62 points, which was good enough for 27th place in the league and 29 points out of the eighth seed in the West. Their top assist man was David Vyborny. Da-vid Vy-born-y. He had 31 assists! 31!

As a 24-year old, Nash scored 40 goals again for a Columbus team that finished seventh in the West and was swept in the first round in their only playoff series ever, though Nash had three points in that series.

The man has scored at least 30 goals in seven of his nine NHL seasons and one of the two years he didn’t was when he was an 18-year-old rookie (he scored 17). Sure, you could make the case that he always has more goals than assists (290-259 career), but who was he supposed to pass to all those years in Columbus? Kristian Huselius? R.J. Umberger? A washed-up Sergei Fedorov? The answer is no one. So he didn’t pass. He just dangled through entire teams by himself and produced goals like this.

I think he did a fine job trying to pad his stats in Columbus, but he couldn’t because there was literally no help on the team … at all … for nine years! Nine years! It was a one-man show and he did the best he could, which was an average of 32 goals a year on the worst team in the league for the last decade. I think he will do a much better job putting up even better and more even and balanced numbers with other stars surrounding him and guys who can actually feed him the puck and do some of the work for him. He will make what is usually an embarrassing power play dangerous and will be the difference maker for this team in the postseason (if they can win a game first).

There’s a reason I was willing to give up everything for him a year ago and why I believe he would have been the difference between playing the Kings for the Cup and losing to the Devils in six games. There’s a reason he was part of the first line for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics and on their first power play unit. There’s a reason why his cap hit is $7.8 million. And there’s a reason why I’m not worried about it. Rick Nash is the real deal.

Miccoli: I look forward to your demeanor six months from now if the New York Rangers aren’t crowned Stanley Cup Champions. Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers are a good team, a really good team, but that’s exactly it: they’re a team. Rick Nash can produce as much as possible but if they’re not getting contributions from other stars like Gaborik and Richards, production from their depth players and secondary scorers and a strong effort on the blue line, the season could take a turn.

And what about Lundqvist? Seven goals in two games seems like a billion for a guy known for being stingy in net. (Hey, that’s almost four times as many goals that Rask has allowed!) For a goalie that has carried a team on his back for years, wouldn’t it be ironic for him to suddenly falter?

Now don’t get me wrong, I still think King Henrik is still one of the best netminders in the world, even if he makes glove saves after the puck has crossed the goal line. He made some tremendous saves in Boston, allowing only three goals on 34 shots, which seems like a lot for a team synonymous with throwing their bodies in front of pucks as if they were crash test dummies. Can’t say I’d do the same if I was out there, so there’s that, but the Rangers shot blocking was one of the main reasons why they were so successful last year.

Now the power play…yeah, I feel your pain. At least you don’t have to endure the “Bruins are 0-for-(insert number of past Bruin here) on the power play” tweets like I have to. Easily the worst trend to come out of the Bruins’ Cup run … and there were some doozies.

Keefe: Henrik Lundqvist entered the Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Eli Manning level of respect from me in that I won’t say something bad about him … ever. (However, there are some “Ladies and gentlemen, Eli Manning” tweets floating around there from the final weeks of this season.) The only difference is that Lundqvist hasn’t won a championship. Actually, there’s another difference: Lundqvist has never really had much help in seven years. That’s why this year is supposed to be different.

Last year I pleaded with anyone who would listen about why the Rangers had to trade Rick Nash. My reasoning was simple: You can’t keep wasting years of Henrik Lundqvist’s prime. The Rangers didn’t add a scorer in Nash and they couldn’t score consistently in the playoffs and they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t know for sure that Nash would have had produced a Rangers-Kings series, but I like to believe that I know for sure that he would. Instead the Rangers relied on lucky bounces and garbage goals, which they relied on for a lot of their regular season wins that got them the No. 1 seed, but when those bounces stopped finding them, they lost. They needed seven games to knock off the No. 8 Senators and the No. 7 Capitals and then they couldn’t solve a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, who looked 80 at times, and an offense that had very similar problems. But it probably didn’t matter because I don’t think any team was beating the Kings last spring and summer. Though I’d like to think a team with Henrik Lundqvist in net would have had a better chance.

Up until last year, the Rangers’ game plan was score the first goal and then hope for a shutout. It’s why their postseasons only lasted one round for a few years. Last year things looked like they would start to be different and there was some secondary scoring added around Marian Gaborik. Now the team has Gaborik and Nash and Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan. There’s no reason the 2010-11 game plan of playing for one goal and if you’re really, really lucky, two goals should still be the plan.

Like I said, I won’t fault Lundqvist for any of the team’s problems through two games (I have to remind myself it’s only been two games) and even though seven goals in two games is a problem, the Rangers have allowed 73 shots in 60 minutes. I’m not sure that’s a recipe for success and I’m not sure going 1-for-9 on the power play is one either.

As for the shot blocking, that’s what everyone always wants to talk about with the Rangers. And while it shows a blue-collar mentality and a lunch pail and hard hat image for New York City, it can do just as much bad for the team as it can good. It seems like most goals Lundqvist allowed last year were a product of blocked shots off Rangers that screened him or deflected. That hasn’t necessarily been the case this year, but letting the Penguins play “Rebound” in front of him isn’t exactly a good idea.

On Saturday, the Rangers lost to a better “team.” I’m not sure the Bruins will be the better team after Game 48 (I just wanted to write that to see how weird it sounded and read coming off the fingers onto the screen), but right now the Bruins are the better “team” with less new faces and more chemistry than the Rangers. The same goes for the Penguins. I’m not sure 96 hours is enough time for the Rangers to get it together since seeing the Bruins, but I would like to think they took the time on Monday and Tuesday to try some line combinations that will last more than one shift.

But I said it: The Bruins are a better team … right now. And that’s without crazy man Tim Thomas in net.

Miccoli: The Bruins are one of a few teams that could actually benefit from a 48-game season. Aside from the obvious Tim Thomas departure (which still bugs me, but I’ll get to that), only Benoit Pouliot, Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon and Brian Rolston have left the team. Five years from now, this will be more forgettable than that time the Bruins had Yan Stastny, Petr Tenkrat and Stanislav Chistov on the roster. The additions to the lineup Chris Bourque, Dougie Hamilton and even a healthy Nathan Horton, give the Bruins an instant upgrade from when we saw them last, leaving the ice after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. I can preach about the importance of chemistry (which the Bruins have), the benefits of a positive locker room (this, too) and even the crucial depth needed to win the Stanley Cup (hey, the Bruins have this too!), but I think that’s best saved for their play on the ice.

The Bruins have the opportunity to be a Stanley Cup contender for a long time. They have incredible depth playing in Boston right now and a boatload of prospects who should be NHL-ready as soon as next season. Factor in the development of players like Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask and you have a wide-open championship window for Boston. That’s exciting, since no other Boston sports team is in a situation quite like the Bruins. Everyone hates the Red Sox, the Celtics are old and too many people are whining about the Patriots. Never in a million years did I think that the Bruins would be the toast of the town. But now they are and they know it, too.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said on Monday that he was aware of the team’s obligation to the city. Andrew Ference is tweeting about how much he loves the city and how the team loves playing in front of the fans every night. Patrice Bergeron even talked about how much of an honor it was to wear the Bruins jersey and play at the TD Garden every night. Call it clichéd, but this team genuinely gets how important hockey is to the city. David Krejci said that the whole team is having a lot of fun out there and it sure looks it, since they’re firing on all cylinders. All of the vibes surrounding this team right now are overwhelmingly positive.

Which brings me to Tim Thomas. I don’t know why Thomas decided to pack up his bags and move to Colorado. I don’t know why Thomas thinks he’s an automatic lock for the U.S. Olympic team in 2014 after, you know, just not playing for a year. I don’t know why Thomas’ sudden affinity for social media fascinates everyone, either (I’m curious if everyone was like this when their parents joined Facebook? I know I was.). What I do know is that without Tim Thomas, the Boston Bruins do not win the Stanley Cup and are not in the same position that they’re in today. Sure, Thomas was a distraction last season with all of the off-the-ice crap and his statistics dipped too. To me, the two share zero correlation. Thomas’ was never going to replicate his 2010-11 season again and while under every single spotlight in Boston, every move he made was criticized. It got sickening fast and I think Thomas started to play it up a little because really, there was nothing else for him to do.

I remember Tim Thomas as being the guy who won a Stanley Cup for the Boston. That’s how I choose to think about it. With that, I’m more than ready for the Tuukka Rask era to begin.

Keefe: Ah, Petr Tenkrat. There’s a name I forgot about for a reason and never expected to hear again. There’s a blast from the past and a name I forgot and didn’t expect to hear ever again. As for Tim Thomas, I hope my friend in Boston, who got a tattoo on his arm of Thomas holding the Cup is thinking about Thomas the same way as you. Otherwise he has a guy with a well-known Facebook page in a Bruins jersey holding the Cup tattooed on his body for life.

I’m happy to see your dream come true of the Bruins being the focal point of Boston once again like it’s the 70s or late 80s or early 90s there. I only wish this had been the case when I was still living in Boston, so there would have been excitement in the city for hockey. Or maybe it would have been nice if Gary Bettman didn’t cancel the season in the year that we lived together just blocks from the then-FleetCenter. Gary Bettman! What a guy!

All of this positive talk about the Bruins makes me wish I could talk the same way about the Rangers. I can feel the excitement and jubilation from you through the computer screen. Instead the Rangers are winless with the Bruins coming to the Garden and looking at Philadelphia twice, Toronto and Pittsburgh for the rest of January. Things need to turn around and they need to turn around starting against your team.

Miccoli: All is not lost … at least not yet. It’s still early and luckily for you, they only hand out the Stanley Cup after the first few games of the season in Toronto. As far as the Bruins and Rangers go, it’s sad to see their season series concluding in just two weeks when the Blueshirts visit the Garden on Feb. 12. But the end for these two teams? Not a chance. I think this is finally the year that the Rangers and Bruins meet in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And if that happens, I can’t possibly think of a better way to expedite years off of my life.

Here’s my quick confession: the New York Rangers are the team to beat in the East, even if they look like a PeeWee youth hockey team playing in their first game after tryouts right now. They just have all of the pieces and once they click, they’ll be a well-oiled machine capable of crushing teams that stand in their way. I don’t think it will be the Pittsburgh Penguins in the hunt alongside the Rangers, but rather the Boston Bruins. Both teams just stand out for me. While I’m sure this would make for an incredible playoff series, I won’t look forward to the Boston vs. New York narrative that both markets will eat up at every possible opportunity, but at least that will mask the four-hour Red Sox-Yankees series that everyone will forget about. But the hockey games, oh, the games will be fun. Late spring, playoff hockey between two of the best teams in the East. Doesn’t get much better, does it? Ahh, hockey!

I guess the Rangers have to win a game first, though, which is good news considering they have the Flyers Thursday night. Ilya Bryzgalov is always good for a pick-me-up.

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