This afternoon, the Rangers look to make it two in a row when they host the Oilers at The Garden. The game is one of those early 1 PM starts on a busy Saturday that includes a couple of other matinees.
It’s a chance for younger fans to get a closer look at the game’s best player, Connor McDavid. The 21-year old Edmonton franchise center is in his fourth season. A former Hart winner who’s led the league in scoring the past two seasons totaling 208 points (71-137-208), he enters play with a goal and two assists in the Oilers’ first two games. Both losses. They lost to the Devils in Stockholm last Saturday and dropped a game in Boston the other day.
Edmonton remains an enigma due to a questionable team defense that hindered McDavid’s Hart chances in ’17-18. A disappointing season that saw them miss the postseason following a good run in the 2017 NHL Playoffs. They lost in the second round to the Ducks in seven games.
The uncertainty surrounding them puts extra pressure on starting goalie Cam Talbot. The former Ranger is in his third year with the Oilers. After a breakthrough ’16-17 that saw him set career bests in games played (73), wins (42) and shutouts (7), he struggled similarly to the team by posting a 3.02 goals-against-average (GAA) and .908 save percentage with 31 wins and just one shutout in 67 contests. So far, he’s allowed seven goals on 57 shots in two starts. It’s vital for the 31-year old to have a bounce back year if Edmonton is to rebound.
It’ll be a tall order for the Rangers defensively against the top Edmonton line featuring McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ty Rattie. So far, Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl each have a goal and assist. They played on the second line with 2017 first round pick Kailer Yamamoto. He’s only 20, but is worth watching. Secondary scoring is an area the Oilers need improvement on. Former Islander Ryan Strome centers the third line with another former first round pick Jesse Puljarvi a key player who must step up.
The Edmonton blueline features ex-Devil Adam Larsson and Swedish countryman Oscar Klefbom. Darnell Nurse is the defensive defenseman that should draw the tough assignments. Keep an eye on 2018 first round pick Evan Bouchard. The 19-year old has played in two games and is still looking for his first point. He was taken 10th overall.
For the Rangers, they’re looking for more production out of top center Mika Zibanejad. He only has one assist so far. The righty shooter hasn’t found the back of the net yet. A streaky scorer, this could be the type of game he needs to snap out of it. The Rangers can ill afford to not have Zibanejad contributing. Ditto for Kevin Hayes, who enters with one helper in four games. He gets the tough assignments as the club’s checking center. However, more is expected from the defensively responsible forward. He’s mostly been featured with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Vesey. Only Vesey has scored with a two goal game in the 8-5 loss at Carolina.
David Quinn is still trying to figure out where talented Russian Pavel Buchnevich fits. He set up the big tying goal from Brendan Smith with 2:39 left the other night. Buchnevich enters with two goals including one on the power play with an assist. He won’t be with Zibanejad today. Instead, Quinn has decided to mix and match, shifting Buchnevich to the second line with impressive rookie Brett Howden and Mats Zuccarello. Not a bad idea considering how well Howden has played. His two goals and assist along with strong work in the faceoff dot have made him the team’s best forward. It is early, but the returns on Howden have been superb.
With Kevin Shattenkirk returning to the blueline, Tony DeAngelo comes out. Quinn will keep Fredrik Claesson in after a solid performance. Adam McQuaid sits for the first time. Here are the projected lines per Rangers Report:
So, two lines change. The Hayes unit remains intact along with the fourth line of Filip Chytil, Vladislav Namestnikov and Vinni Lettieri. They had a good game the other day.
It should be an interesting game.