Just the Facts
Game time: 7PM EST on NHL Network and MSG (Sorry Canadian friends, there's a concurrent Leafs/Habs games, you're shit outta luck)
Rival SBNation Site: Blueshirt Banter (civil discussion only, gang. Any trolling will result in severe ostracization and a wedgie at the next meetup)
Records: Bruins (0-0-0) vs Rangers (0-0-0)
Jeremy Jacobs welcomes 17,656
suckers willing to pay grossly inflated prices loyal fans back to TD Garden to kick off the abridged 2013 season tonight against the New York Rangers. As Ecozens highlighted earlier this week, the competitive fire for these two "original" six squads has waxed and waned over the decades, but we're looking at a rekindling of renewed rivalry between two teams atop their divisions duking it out to be the class of the Eastern Conference.
Trailing for first place all year, the Bruins did not fare well against the Conference leader in 2012, dropping three of four games to the Blueshirts, most in closely contested battles. The B's dominated possession in all games they lost, in part a function of score effects - when a team either pushes the pace to get more shots when behind or hunkers down defensively when leading - meaning we're facing a team content to sit on their lead with Henrik Lundqvist and his merry band of slot-clogging, self-sacrificing shot blockers between the puck and the twine. There simply wasn't enough tie-game action to evaluate by score-tied Corsi for a less score effect influenced look at flow of play. For a meager silver lining in the face of an unfavorably lopsided season series, the Bruins do have the ability to drive play when sufficiently motivated.
Even with the puck on a string, the Rangers will not be an easy test for the Bruins straight out of the gate. Out of all teams in the East, New York was best able to penetrate our defense, gaining position for the best shot quality-against in the Conference - at an average shot distance of 30ft. The Richards and Gaborik combo posed the greatest problem, converting at 24% and 17% respectively, mostly from inside the hash marks, together proving too much for Chara to handle. Callahan meanwhile made mincemeat of Joe Corvo and alternating partners Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference, posting numbers alongside Richards. On the other end of the ice the Bruins couldn't get in close against the collapsing defense, opting to lob bombs from the blue line, averaging 43 feet out for an Eastern Conference worst against King Henrik. Not really a winning recipe against one of the league's best netminders. Traffic in front for point shots is nice and all, but some of your shots need to come from dangerous areas of the ice.
With the best traveled roster galavanting about the European leagues over the lockout, the Bruins may have a competitive advantage over the less game-ready Rangers, who had only Michael Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan seeing any action overseas, compared to the Bruins' 10 active players. Then again they didn't just get schooled by their AHL affiliate, so perhaps we shouldn't let our heads get too big over an edge in lower tier league play. On the other hand, our team can tout roster stability as a plus, since the Rangers saw a wholesale turnover in their bottom six. Gone are Anisimov and Dubinsky, victims of the Nash trade, along with John Mitchell, Brandon Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko. Last year's D pairs however, a down-the-roster team strength, remain 100% intact.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, John Tortorella has broken up the presumed line of Nash/Richards/Gaborik in favor of two capable scoring lines, so Big Z's has more than just a "big 3" to handle. Dougie Hamilton, you're about to be thrown in the deep end with only Dennis Seidenberg for water wings. The speedy Hagelin remaining on the first unit lends a complimentary skill set to Nash's power forward game, creating a balanced trio somewhat like Peverley riding with Krejci and Lucic. Count on Gaborik's line two to get massively sheltered minutes, starting in the offensive zone as often as possible, but to fall victim to a matchup game on Bruins' home ice with Bergeron on for draws against subpar face-off man Stepan and Chara remaining out in case Saint Patrice somehow loses. The Rangers' third line looks to function a bit like our fourth, largely a grinding, cycling energy line, but with the wild card of BC phenom Chris Kreider's scoring touch putting some threat in the depth. Can't say that fourth line's going to strike fear in anyone's hearts, and they'll likely find they miss Prust and Mitchell, both underrated bottom-line possession drivers.
Rangers-Bruins games have become synonymous with close-score defensive battles over the past couple years, and you should expect much the same this time around. Both teams' top sixes are full of firepower that will be a challenge to contain, but the Bruins bottom-unit scoring depth may provide the answer, provided they can penetrate the collapsing shell of the Rangers balanced D. How's it going to shake out? Leave your predictions in the comments.
Thank the lord, (NHL) hockey is back!