Sharks vs Rangers Preview: Raanta starts, McIlrath and Jooris in

Tonight is the third game of the regular season for the New York Rangers (1-1-0), who host the San Jose Sharks (2-0-0). It’ll be another early litmus test for them against last year’s Western Conference Champs.

The Sharks are well balanced. Featuring stars Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, they have plenty of speed and talent. It looks like Martin Jones will start his third straight game in net. This is a very deep fore-checking team. Their lines could pose problems for the Rangers, who are without Dan Girardi (hip flexor) and Kevin Klein (back spasms).

It’s a chance for Dylan McIlrath to get into the lineup. He’ll be on the third pair with Brady Skjei. That should be interesting to watch. How much will the coaching staff use them? Nick Holden replaces Girardi on the top pair with Ryan McDonagh, who’s looked good thus far. He’s the workhorse. Marc Staal will work with Adam Clendening. They played some together in exhibition. We’ll see how they look.

Antti Raanta gets his first start. He’ll give Henrik Lundqvist a night off. Something they should be able to do keeping Lundqvist fresh for 58-60 games. Raanta won 11 games last season and had a good preseason. He’s sure to get tested.

There also are changes up front. With back spasms keeping rookie Pavel Buchnevich from taking the morning skate, he’s out. It figures cause I just picked him up in my fantasy league. I got a very good feeling about that line. Josh Jooris draws in and will center the fourth line. He’ll play with Brandon Pirri and Michael Grabner.

Alain Vigneault adjusted three of four lines only keeping Jimmy Vesey intact with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. It would be nice to see them do something. Rick Nash is moved up to the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, who has come out on fire with two goals and two assists. Hopefully, the move should get Nash going. He showed signs in the loss at St. Louis nearly setting up J.T. Miller.

Miller stays put on the third line with Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. Fast is a player Vigneault likes moving around due to his defensive awareness and hustle. He will get the jersey dirty and go to the hard areas. Anything that can rub off on Hayes, who is off to another slow start. It’s only been two games. So, we’ll cut him some slack.

As for the Sharks, they also boast a strong supporting cast featuring Joonas Donskoi, Mikkel BoedkerJoel Ward, Patrick Marleau and Tomas Hertl. Marc-Edouard Vlasic is probably the most overlooked shutdown defenseman in the game. There’s a reason the solid skating lefty D represents Canada in international tournaments. He’s just a very good defenseman who makes great reads and is capable of jumping in even though it’s not his primary assignment. Here’s a look at San Jose’s lines:










Rangers Lines:










About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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