The freshly-dismantled Rangers are in Edmonton tonight to play the Oilers. It’ll be our first chance to see this rebuilding New York team that traded away its top goal scorers and top defenceman prior to the trade deadline.
1. This will be the second meeting of the season between the Rangers and the Oilers. The first came back in New York on Nov. 11. The Oilers got dropped 4-2, which snapped their two-game winning streak that they had to kick off their East Coast road trip. Of course, tonight’s Rangers team is going to look a lot different than the one we saw back in November.
2. A few weeks ago, the New York Rangers posted on Twitter that they were going to blow the team up and begin a rebuilding process. Oh boy did they ever. Before the trade deadline, the Rangers dealt Michael Grabner, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, and captain Ryan McDonagh for draft picks and prospects. The only NHL player they got back who have immediately stepped into the lineup are Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner. Otherwise, it’s a shell of the Rangers we’ve come to know.
3. It made sense for the Rangers to sell. Though there’s a chance they could have snuck into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the team is aging and this group simply wasn’t good enough to go on a run. In 24 games between the turn of the New Year and the trade deadline, New York won just seven games. They announced their plan to rebuild on Feb. 8 as the team was mired in a four-game losing streak, they won a couple of games after that, then they went on to lose seven in a row.
4. Since the trade deadline, New York has won back-to-back games. That’s probably more of a testament to the competition they were facing though. They finally snapped their seven-game skid with a win over Vancouver on Wednesday and then they followed it up with a 3-1 win last night in Calgary. The Western Canadian road trip has been much easier for teams than expected this year. The Canucks are, well, the Canucks, and the Flames ice a beer league calibre bottom-six. Remember a few months ago when Buffalo came through and hammered Edmonton, Vancouver, and Buffalo?
5. It’s not like New York has played even sort of well over their two-game road win streak. The Canucks peppered 55 shots on Henrik Lundqvist and he allowed five goals, but Anders Nilsson and Jakob Markstrom combined to allow six goals. Then, last night against Calgary, Lundqvist stopped 50 of 51 shots en route to a 3-1 win. With the King in net, no matter how much of a tire fire this team is, the Rangers will still win games.
6. It won’t be Lundqvist in net for New York tonight in Edmonton with the Rangers playing the second leg of a back-to-back. It’ll be undrafted rookie Alexandar Georgiev. You might remember him as the goalie who helped backstop Russia to a silver medal at the World Juniors in 2016. He’s been solid in two NHL starts this season (with a .922 save percentage) but his AHL numbers are unspectacular (.908 save percentage in 31 games).
7. Who’s actually left on this Rangers team? They dealt their top two scorers in Michael Grabner and Rick Nash and their sixth highest scorer in J.T. Miller. Their leading scorer now is Kevin Hayes and Mika Zibanejad who each have 18 goals. After that, it gets pretty desolate. Pavel Buchnevich has 14 goals, Jimmy Vesey has 12, and Chris Kreider has 11. I won’t bother getting into details about New York’s special teams because the roster composition is completely different now. And, as we know, Edmonton’s special teams are very bad. No sense in beating a dead horse.
8. The Oilers dealt away Patrick Maroon, Mark Letestu, and Brandon Davidson at the trade deadline and their lineup looks pretty desolate too. Edmonton didn’t have much depth to begin with, and now, without Maroon and Letestu up front, it’s starting to look like a lineup from the Decade of Darkness. That said, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is pencilled into tonight’s lineup, which gives the team a major boost.
9. Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t played since Jan. 13 against Vegas, which was right before Edmonton went on their bye week. He had 16 goals and 15 assists in 46 games and was on pace to shatter his career-high in goals of 24 set back in 2014-15. It’s unlikely he’ll go that, but it’s very possible for RNH to break the 20-goal plateau for the first time since that season.
10. And finally, we have our Connor McDavid Art Ross watch. Nikita Kucherov still leads the way with 82 points in 63 games while Evgeni Malkin has slid into second with 78 points. McDavid sits in third with 77 points. Catching Kucherov is going to be difficult especially considering the rate that Tampa Bay scores at, but it’s doable.
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