Whatever doubts we may have about the quality of the Rangers’ opponent this weekend, a few things were crystallized. Among them:
<li>We know that Markus Naslund has some gas left in the tank. I will stop short of saying Naslund is definitely going to rebound from his past few disappointing seasons since very often with a 35-year-old player the question isn’t what he can do in October, but in January and February (and then of course, in April and May). But Naslund has at least arrived in New York in impressive shape, and is clicking with his new linemates. With that in mind, there is reason to be optimistic.
(It’s worth noting that Naslund is now the only member of the Rangers who is older than me (last year, with Jagr, Straka, and Shanahan, there were three). It’s not really relevant to anything, but I would find it discouraging if he was gasping for air after the first two games).
<li>We know Henrik Lundqvist and Wade Redden are not nearly bad as they were in the preseason. This isn’t saying much since both set the bar fairly low. But the goalie and the defenseman, both of whom are in the first year of lucrative contracts, were impressive in Prague.
I made reference yesterday to the fact that Redden did himself a huge favor in this department. Because rather than head into the MSG opener in front of a skeptical home crowd, he can now return with some confidence. As for Lundqvist, Rangers fans know that the goalie has started slowly each of the last two seasons, so there wasn’t much reason for panic. But his performance in the opener on Saturday was a continuation of his brilliant play last spring.
<li>We know how the Rangers are going to try to play. Again, let’s see how they do against a team that doesn’t have some glaring weaknesses — an inexperienced blue line, a star player a tad out of shape, an 18-year-old dynamo now just two games into his NHL career — but the up tempo, smothering style the Rangers employed this weekend indeed seems to be a worthwhile venture. Back in July when Glen Sather made reference to the Rangers mimicking the Detroit Red Wings, it was easy to be skeptical. But the Rangers do seem to have the personnel to at least give it a whirl.
Great quote from Scott Gomez on this: “I think the main thing is, I think we kind of showed our identity, how we’re going to be this year. In your face, four lines, the speed.”
To which Rangers fans might reply: Um, OK.
<li>We know that Dmitri Kalinin is going to drive people nuts this year. I spent two years alternately poking fun at and defending Marek Malik. This year I think Kalinin might be my guy. In fact, at the risk of a sweeping generalization, Kalinin, like Malik, is a fairly common European defenseman: someone who has the ability and desire to jump in and make a play, but who occasionally leaves himself exposed as a result.
There is no question that Kalinin has some offensive instincts, which you need out of your defensemen in today’s game. The key will be not joining the rush at the expense of an odd man rush the other way. That’s why the pairing with a relatively sensible Dan Girardi seems to make sense for now.
<li>We know the Rangers have some decisions to make. Not to keep banging the same drum, but I can’t imagine this team is going to keep the same roster of three extra forwards and no extra defensemen for long (unless Fred Sjostrom or Dan Fritsche has some experience at defense we don’t know about). I would have to think Glen Sather is still exploring ways to unload a forward or two, perhaps looking for a defenseman in return, or perhaps just as a way to clear some cap space.
It might happen by Friday, or it might take some time. But we’d be foolish to think it’s not being discussed.