New York Rangers fans have been spoiled in this early season with seven straight wins and a quick rise to the top of the standings. The little fantasy world we all lived in was eradicated Monday night as the Sharks systematically tore the Rangers apart showing that this team was far from the top.
With the fantasy world and winning streak gone, its time to start the season. What do I mean. I mean the tension and grind where every game is as important as Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Every win counts as we know from the way playoff races turn out. The Eastern Conference is always hotly contested and that last two years has come down to the final games before the Rangers would clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Tonight is one of those games as New York hosts the rival New Jersey Devils. The Devils were one of the teams New York beat during their winning streak where Matt Gilroy scored the game winning goal, his first NHL goal. Head Coach John Tortorella would love for Gilroy to repeat that performance along with the rest of his team. After taking an early timeout in that game the Rangers got in gear and battled back for a big win at Prudential Center.
But what does this game mean? Sure it is the 100th game between these two teams at Madison Square Garden but it means more than that. New York has suffered its first big setback of the season and its first real adversity. How will they respond? History shows that long winning streaks are coupled with losing streaks and no doubt the players and staff of the Blueshirts know this. I would have believed this team would go on an extended losing streak the last few years, but not this team. This is not because of a fiery coach or the system that is in place (while these do contribute to that belief). It is because of enthusiasm and a work ethic. Its seeing Vinny Prospal celebrate like a 5 year old when he scores, Marian Gaborik giving an emphatic fist pump after a snipe, Donald Brashear fighting for fans he knows are not fond of him, Wade Redden playing much better and getting praise from fans, watching Michael Del Zotto look like a veteran defenseman on the point of the power play, or the emphatic leg pumps of Henrik Lundqvist. The signs of enthusiasm and team are refreshing to see from an organization that has long had to fight with the lure of New York City to get the players to focus on hockey first.
Will we see that tonight? This rivalry always brings out the passion from the fans. The players will certainly be ready to go. All eyes will be on Sean Avery and Martin Brodeur who have had some memorable encounters the last few years. Personally I would like to see Avery get under Marty's skin again. He has not been on that edge like we have seen before and the Rangers need a bit of that snarl and aggravation from Avery if they want to succeed.
The Coyotes are on the other side of the country and will take on the Detroit Red Wings for the first time this season. Phoenix will look to continue its winning streak and their surprising start.
Anyone see Willie Mitchell lay out Jonathan Toews last night? What a hit. Watch it here. That is the kind of physical play the Rangers need on their blue line and have been missing for awhile. An absolutely beautiful hit.