When the Rangers visit Bell Centre Thursday night for the Canadiens home opener, there will be more changes on the horizon. After dropping a 4-1 decision to Winnipeg for their first loss, New York coach Alain Vigneault plans to reinsert Dan Boyle into the lineup. He’ll be paired with Marc Staal on the second defense tandem.
Vigneault also hinted that Jesper Fast could return to the lineup. He sat the last two games in favor of Tanner Glass. He hasn’t made up his mind as to whether Emerson Etem will make his season debut. If he does, then either Dominic Moore or Jarret Stoll will sit. Since they’re basically the same type of player, they don’t have to play every night.
With two extra forwards, Vigneault has the luxury of rotating guys in and out as he sees fit. The Habs are more of a skating and fore checking team. Without Boyle, Kevin Klein saw over three minutes on the power play. Special teams were abysmal against Winnipeg going 0-for-5 allowing a shorthanded goal to Bryan Little and also giving up a power play goal in five chances to Winnipeg with Little getting his second. That’s an area the Blueshirts must clean up.
Regarding the top line, Vigneault was optimistic about their game at 5-on-5 with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard combining to set up Mats Zuccarello’s third. They had some looks at even strength. However, the third-year coach also noted a couple of mistakes from Brassard and Nash that led to Jets goals.
The second line was held in check. Kevin Hayes continues to skate around with the puck in circles. He’s been reluctant to shoot. In some aspects, he’s played similar to Alexei Kovalev. Chris Kreider has yet to score a goal. He has two assists but has not followed up a strong preseason with the kind of start expected. Derek Stepan has been the most consistent with two goals and a helper. The alternate captain always gives an honest effort and is strong defensively when he isn’t scoring.
The third line of rookie Oscar Lindberg, Viktor Stalberg and J.T. Miller were held off the score sheet. They’ve been by far the most consistent line. But shouldn’t be expected to score daily. It’s up to the top two lines to pick it up.
As expected, Henrik Lundqvist will make his fifth consecutive start. He’ll oppose Carey Price in a match-up of arguably the best two goalies. Coming off a dual Hart and Vezina season, Price is off to a fast start winning all three starts while allowing five goals on 91 shots. Lundqvist finally cooled off after permitting three goals on 28 shots Tuesday. He’s 3-1-0 with a 2.26 goals-against-average and .933 save percentage.
Whenever these two Original Six rivals get together, the games are fun and competitive. Montreal’s home opener should be electric. The Rangers will attempt to ruin a third home opener. They spoiled the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets who are reeling after giving up seven goals to Ottawa in a fourth consecutive loss to start the season.