Even after Saturday’s unfortunate 6-1 Montreal Canadiens loss to the Colorado Avalanche, it’s probably somewhat surprising that the New York Rangers have somehow stolen top spot in the standings out from under the Habs.
Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
Yet, there the Rangers were on Saturday afternoon, boasting the exact same incredible 13-2-2 record to the start the season. Following the Canadiens’ loss later that night, they pulled ahead with one fewer game played (the Dallas Stars have one more win, the same amount of points, with no games in hand).
For their part, the Rangers had just come off a 2-1 shootout victory over the Ottawa Senators, a result that did the Canadiens about as many favors as a dual-pronged pitchfork to the tuchus, considering Ottawa is the No. 2 team in the Atlantic Division, albeit now still an unworrisome eight points behind.
The win over Ottawa was New York’s eighth straight and their 12th consecutive game with at least a point (10-0-2), a points streak that coincidentally started after their 3-0 loss to Montreal back in mid-October.
It’s also one short of the nine-game winning stream with which the Habs started their season. The Rangers can tie that gold standard Sunday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They will face off against the Canadiens for the second time this season two Wednesdays from now in New York.
One has to believe that game will be pretty hyped up (if it isn’t starting already, looking at this piece) as a matchup between two long-time Original Six rivals. However, that’s not necessarily the case.
Big, Bad Blood
There just isn’t the same amount of historical bad blood between the Rangers and the Habs as there is between the latter and, for example, the Boston Bruins, who have faced Montreal 34 times in the playoffs. In fact the Rangers don’t even have the second-most amount of playoff meetings with the Habs (Chicago Blackhawks).
They’re actually tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and one would have to give the edge as Habs rivals to the Leafs there, if only based solely on geography. And, despite that fact, there have been five times the amount of Stanley Cups decided between them relative to Montreal and New York (a single one, in 1978-79, which Montreal won). The rest of the 15 Habs-Rangers playoff meetings have taken place in early rounds (with New York holding an overall 8-7 edge).
It’s really only recently that the Rangers have emerged as opponents capable of getting under their skin, even with the closer playoff record (Montreal is 25-9 against Boston). That’s true in the regular season as well, as since the last lockout the Canadiens have a 12-2 record over the Bruins with one playoff victory.
They are conversely 8-2 against the Rangers in that same time span with one playoff loss, with the games traditionally being much closer in score. It would just seem, as much as the Bruins hate the Habs and vice versa, the Rangers are hanging tougher with them these days.
The respective records against each team aren’t meant to suggest the Habs have been absolutely dominant in either case, even if they’ve found themselves among the league’s elite since 2012-2013 with three straight 100-point seasons. In fact, admittedly, a great deal of that past success has been due to goaltender Carey Price.
Look to Montreal’s possession and PDO numbers (sum of save and shooting percentages) and you’ll only start to find signs of sustainable success this season. Meanwhile, the Rangers seem to be the ones playing with fire with putrid possession these days, with a five-on-five Corsi for percentage of 45.6.
If it worked for the Habs for the better part of the past two seasons, why can’t it for New York (aside from Henrik Lundqvist being well on the wrong side of 30)? In any case, it would seem these two teams are made for each other.
Add in friends Michel Therrien and Alain Vigneault coaching each team, Chris Kreider bowling over Price back in the 2014 playoffs (with Price eventually gaining some measure of revenge) and the Rangers eking out a 2014-15 Presidents’ Trophy victory by three points and all of a sudden these games are starting to mean something… emphasis on the “mean.”
There will always be heated games between the Habs and Bruins. That’s a given. However, with Boston arguably taking a step back from contention last year and now inching further out of the playoff picture altogether, the Rangers have instead stepped up as legitimate rivals.
A Habs-Rangers matchup may not have the same luster surrounding it, but it’s getting to that point with more and more at stake each game than sheer pride. For now, that makes them the more dangerous opponent than the Big, Bad Bruins.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.