The New York Rangers‘ fairytale postseason run ended in a Game 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After sneaking past the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes, the veteran prowess of the Bolts was too much to handle for the young Blueshirts. In a Hollywood-esque way, the new 2022-23 season will open with the defending Eastern Conference champs heading into Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers.
Not only is it the first game of the season for both sides, but it is also the first North American game of the season for the entirety of the NHL (The San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators play a two-game series in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8). Oct. 11 will feature two nationally televised broadcasts, the first being the Lightning at Rangers, with the second leg of the doubleheader having the Los Angeles Kings hosting the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Rangers’ season opener against the Lightning will feature a raucous crowd that is rash with anticipation for the 2022-23 season. After their run to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the expectation is for Gerard Gallant’s team to build off of their success. That success hinders solely on the top picks in recent years stepping into the roles vacated by offseason departures.
Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev, Kevin Rooney, Justin Braun, and Patrik Nemeth have all departed, while trade deadline acquisition Tyler Motte remains unsigned. Replacing these former Blueshirts are newly signed Vincent Trocheck, Jaroslav Halak, and Ryan Carpenter, with top-six roles opening up for Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko.
Rangers Look to Exact Revenge on Lightning
When the curtains are raised on the 2022-23 season, the Rangers and Lightning will face off in what will surely be a spirited bout. The home opener is always unique, but this year brings an added sense of importance as Jacob Trouba, the NHL’s most infamous player last playoffs, will don the ‘C’ for the Rangers. He will be the first captain since Ryan McDonagh in 2017-18 and will hopefully guide the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup since 1994.
Tampa ousted New York in the Conference Finals in six games, but the Rangers managed to sweep the season series, winning all three meetings with their Floridian foes. The Rangers hope the regular season trend continues on opening night, while Tampa looks to win their fifth consecutive game against the Blueshirts dating back to the postseason.
The Rangers outscored Tampa Bay 10-4 in the 2021-22 regular season, and the postseason was dead even, with both teams scoring 14 times. The brilliance of the Lightning’s defense yielded just one goal in each of the series’ final three games, which inevitably led to the Rangers’ demise.
Both teams seem poised to get back to the postseason, but a win in the opener could set the tone that the Rangers’ run last year was not a fluke.
Can Lafreniere, Kakko, and Chytil Produce?
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals was a 6-2 thrashing in favor of the Rangers. Lafreniere had two assists in that contest, Filip Chytil had two goals, and Kakko had an assist. Over the next five games, the three combined for just two points, a Kakko goal, and an assist from Chytil. Outside of that, the Lightning completely stopped the red-hot ‘Kid Line’ from producing anything offensively.
For the Rangers to succeed this season, these three young forwards will need to raise their level of play. Game one won’t make or break the season, but getting off to a good start against the same time which shut them down for the entirety of a series would be a confidence booster.
The national spotlight is familiar to the Rangers. As an original six team, they play a large chunk of games on a big stage every year. Last season, the first for TNT and ESPN under the NHL’s new media deal, the Rangers were in Washington to take on the Capitals to open the season.
All the anticipation and excitement for the new season, new network, and for hockey to be back, and the Rangers lost by a 5-1 score. It was a bitter pill for Rangers fans to swallow, as the long wait during the offseason led to a rough first game.
This year’s test isn’t any easier, but the belief is the result will be different. The opener last year was on the road; this year, it is at home. Expectations are greater this season than last, and the Lightning is a much stronger opponent than the Capitals were in the 2021-22 opener.
There are a lot of questions about this new version of the Rangers to go along with the anticipation. Will Shesterkin and Kreider regress? Will the five-on-five play improve? Will the youth make that leap? This won’t be answered in game one, but a matchup to open the season with the Lightning is an excellent way to get the Rangers revved up for what should be a memorable season.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!