On the eve of the New York Rangers’ first game back since the pause due to COVID-19, everything seems to be right on track and the team raring to go.
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The Rangers will face the New York Islanders tomorrow in an exhibition game before their Aug. 1 best-of-five series against the Carolina Hurricanes begins. Head coach Dave Quinn and the boys have the Hurricanes in their sights and can’t wait to get back into the groove they left back in March.
Ramping Up for a Second Chance at the Stanley Cup
If Ryan Strome’s comments are any indication the Rangers’ aren’t going to take the second chance bid in the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoff lightly. Strome recently told the young players: “I haven’t played in the playoffs in three years, and it felt like 10.” He told them to cherish every moment because these opportunities don’t come around too often.
The news out the Rangers’ camp is that they’re focused and gearing up for a long postseason. Before the team departed for Toronto to enter the bubble and prepare for their lone exhibition game against their cross-town rival Islanders, Quinn had this to say: “I think one of the things that they’re only really focusing on is how well we’re playing and how hard we’re practicing.”
The Rangers were on a roll when the season came to a halt and their top two weapons Artemi Panarain and Mika Zibanejad were playing great. In four games against their play-in round opponent, the Hurricanes, Panarin had nine points and Zibanejad had seven points (in three games). That bodes well for the Blueshirts entering their best-of-five series.
Quinn also said, “I think they’re oblivious to all the other stuff going on and not letting that stuff get in the way of what the task is at hand, which is to continue to get better every day after going through a difficult stretch here the last four months, where guys have been limited in what they can and can’t do. So I think the focus is really about coming here every day, getting better, working as hard as possible, making sure we’re staying healthy, and building our mental and physical conditioning so we’re ready to go on the 1st.”
The practices and scrimmages have been uptempo and the Rangers seem to be ramping it up as we get closer to the exhibition game and opening series. Rangers leader Chris Krieder had this to say after practice while they were still in NY: “We’ve never been in a situation like this, but I’d imagine it’s going to be quite a jump and that there are going to be a lot of nerves and a lot of butterflies, and there should be.”
Kreider was injured and originally out for the season, but under the circumstances, was able to rehab his broken foot and get back to play in this unique 24-team playoff format.
He also said, “That’s how it is when you go from a full regular season into the playoffs. It’s kind of like trying to jump on a speeding train, but it’s like that for everybody. I think the teams that are able to channel that energy and lean on the things they’ve been doing all year long; the practice, the structure, the teammates and the more that we can give each other information and talk, on the ice and on the bench, the easier the transition will be.”
Who’s in Goal?
Now, on to the burning question: Who’s going to start in goal? Reports from camp suggest that Igor Shesterkin has been getting most of the ice time during scrimmages. While he’s been getting all the minutes for one team, Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev have split time on the other side. We should know more on Wednesday when the Rangers take on the Islanders.
David Quinn hasn’t made a decision on who will start when the puck drops against Carolina. However, he said that he’s “taking into account Henrik’s success against [the Hurricanes] the season guys were having, what was going on when we left off.” Quinn also said how things go during camp will “be pivotal” in his decision. He also said, “We’re not going to name a starting goaltender until the day of or day before any game we play.”
Lundqvist won three of four games against the Hurricanes this season and Shesterkin earned the victory in their last meeting on Feb. 21. He still hasn’t won a Stanley Cup and undoubtedly is burning for another shot at it. His play has dropped off the last season and a half, but, he’s showed flashes of the old King. His intensity and drive are still there and he’d love to cap off his career by finally hoisting the Cup in a Rangers uniform.
Shesterkin still has a lot to prove, and so far he hasn’t disappointed. Since his call up in January, he has a 10-2 record with a 2.52 goals-against average.
The question of who will start is still up in the air, while Georgiev seems to be the clear number three at this point. Lundqvist and Shesterkin might even split time against the Isles so Benoit Allaire (Goalie Coach) and Quinn can go from there.
Just a Few More Days
Aug. 1 is just a few days away, and the Rangers are primed to make a deep playoff run if they come out firing on all cylinders and get stellar play from either Lundqvist or Shesterkin or both. The best thing is that hockey is back and let’s hope everyone keeps safe in the hockey world and everywhere else.