The New York Rangers have concluded the first calendar month of the season with a 7-2-2 record. Seizing 16 of a possible 22 points by the end of October is obviously a positive sign for the team, and their current position at third in the eastern conference is reason for continued optimism among fans. The Rangers have exhibited many facets of the game that we have become accustomed to over the years, such as Henrik Lundqvist dominating in the blue paint, Mats Zuccarello creating goals, and Dan Girardi covering the front of his jersey in ice shavings. However, there have been a few intriguing twists on some themes we saw last year, such as a dependable third-line Swede
Hagelin Lindberg, a solid backup goalie Talbot Raanta, and a scapegoat for the team Glass Girardi. Damn it Dan, I want to love you. Your jaw could chisel diamonds and your eyes shine like diamonds chiseled by your jaw, but you are slow, make poor decisions along the boards, and sprawl on the ice like you are searching for a contact lens that fell off of your beautiful diamond eyes.
The team has been fluid in the first month of the season with lineup changes and line combinations coming rather frequently. Despite this, the Rangers have found success and accrued wins with contributions from throughout the changing lineup. However, have the Rangers really been tested in the young season? Upon examining the teams that the Rangers have faced so far, it becomes apparent that the quality of competition has not necessarily been daunting. Six of the team's seven wins have come against opponents that are at or below .500 on the season, the other being a win against Chicago who is currently one game above .500 as of the time of this writing. Meanwhile, the Rangers struggled against good Montreal and Winnipeg teams, both of whom handed the Rangers their regulation losses by scores of 0-3 and 1-4 respectively. New York was only able to secure a single point in the standings against New Jersey and Philadelphia, two teams hovering around the .500 mark.
This is important to note for a few reasons. To state the obvious, good teams need to defeat teams worse than them and steal wins against teams that are equal to or better than them. The Rangers record is good, but it should be given the quality of their competition thus far in the season. New York has done their job for the most part, getting wins where they should and at least battling for a point against some tough division rivals. The losses to Montreal and Winnipeg are not reason to panic, but at some point you need to beat the other good teams in the league. This is exactly what the Rangers can achieve in their next game when they face off against the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals also have 16 points, but in one fewer game played than the Rangers. Washington is expected to be a beast in the east, with many picking them for at least a Stanley Cup Final appearance, if not a championship. While it is too early in the season to be making playoff predictions, Alex Ovechkin and company have certainly played like a team poised for a playoff run. The Rangers are heavyweights, but they need to show that they can punch in their weight class. The Capitals have elite scoring talent, a solid defensive corps, and a rising star in net. That kind of opponent will instill fear in weak teams and inspire strong teams to find that next gear waiting to be unleashed. We should all be looking for the Rangers to come roaring out of the gate on Tuesday, ready for a full 60 minutes of tough, exciting hockey. If New York finds a way to win against Washington, they can look forward to the schedule that lies ahead of them.
Following their meeting with the Capitals, the Rangers will face the Avalanche, Coyotes, and Hurricanes. In fact, New York will play only one team who currently has a winning record in the following three weeks, and that is St. Louis. It is entirely plausible that the Rangers could secure 30 or more points by the time Thanksgiving comes around and a quarter of the season is behind us. Points are always worth the same in the standings, no matter what part of the season it is. Now is a time for the Rangers to feast while they can.