Where to begin?
How about at the beginning?
The Rangers opened the 2017-18 season brimming with optimism. Several deft offseason moves by G.M. Jeff Gorton had many believing that this franchise — which has played more playoff games since 2012 than any other team — had put itself in prime position to finally capture Lord Stanley’s fabled chalice.
Unfortunately even the best laid plans aren’t foolproof.
A 3-7-2 start not only dimmed the Stanley Cup dreams of the Blueshirts Faithful, but it also prompted concern about the team’s leadership and whether or not its’ fortunes could be turned around.
Starting with their comeback win over the Golden Knights, the 7th Avenue Skaters reeled off six-straight victories to halt any talk of coaching changes and drastic trades.
Since that game against Vegas, the Rangers are tied for the NHL lead in wins with 18; most of which were accumulated during their annual November surge.
A shaky month of December for the Blueshirts revived some of the early season concerns about the team, but even at their worst, they still managed to earn the points necessary to propel them into a playoff spot.
Now it may only be the middle of the season, but as the calendar flips from 2017 to 2018, the Rangers’ positioning matters greatly. Historical precedence states that teams in control of a playoff spot at the season’s halfway point are highly likely to reach the postseason.
As the Blueshirts prepare to take on their Original Six rivals, the Red Wings, they also have to prepare to be without forward Chris Kreider for the foreseeable future.
The Rangers removed Kreider from Wednesday night’s game against the Capitals after the first period due to a blood clot in his right arm; early estimations have him out for six-to-eight weeks.
In his place the Rangers have called up one of their top prospects; center Vinni Lettieri. How the kid acclimates to the NHL is crucial to the Blueshirts’ playoff hopes.
And there’s no better way to welcome a 22-year-old kid to the NHL than with an Original Six matchup.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Defenseman Brendan Smith played parts of his first six-seasons with the Red Wings (2011-12 – 2016-17). The Rangers acquired him from Detroit prior to last season’s trade deadline on February 28, 2017.
Michael Grabner and Frans Nielsen played with the Islanders for five seasons (2010-2015).
Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall have all represented Sweden at the Winter Olympics.
Mats Zuccarello: Arguably the best playmaker on the Blueshirts, Zuccarello is three assists away from 200 in his career.
PLAYER TO WATCH
RED WINGS: JIMMY HOWARD. Despite already tying his win total from last season, Howard is having the worst year of his career. With only two wins in his last 15 appearances — for a record of 2-7-5 — and rapidly declining peripheral stats, Howard is likely nearing the end of his NHL career. Although, nearly every time he opposes Henrik Lundqvist Howard puts together a stellar performance.
RANGERS: VINNI LETTIERI. Welcome to The Show kid. After months of clamoring by the Rangers’ faithful — and NY Post Beat Writer Larry Brooks — the Blueshirts have called up Lettieri to take the place of injured-winger Chris Kreider. At the time of his call-up, the 22-year-old center was leading the Hartford Wolf Pack in goals (12) and power-play goals (6). He also ranked second on the Wolf Pack with 21 points. Now he gets a chance to prove that he can replicate that success in the NHL.
Jesper Fast remains out with a quad strain and now Chris Kreider joins him on the sidelines.
Kreider left the Rangers’ game against Washington after having played just 5:04 of the first period. Later came the diagnosis that he is suffering from a blood clot in his right arm; best guess estimates have him out for six-to-eight weeks.
Ondrej Pavelec delivered a magnificent performance against the Capitals; now, it’s time for Henrik Lundqvist to check back in to his net.
Newly promoted Vinni Lettieri replaces Kreider in the lineup; slated to begin his NHL career on the fourth-line. Although, he should work his way up the lineup in short order.
The rest of the lineup remains the same.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on MSG Networks at 7:30pm ET. For in-game coverage check out our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
Welcome to the NHL Vinni Lettieri! For months your arrival has been hotly anticipated; now show everybody what you can do.