Rangers: 3 keys to victory in season opener against the Sabres

Rangers, New York Rangers, Artemi Panarin

The New York Rangers are one day away from beginning the 2023-24 season against the Buffalo Sabres. Preseason and training camp have both concluded, and the Rangers are ready to begin their quest for the coveted Stanley Cup.

The Rangers are coming off of a short, disappointing playoff run and a long summer offseason, setting the stage for a redemption year. But before the Blueshirts can look toward a championship conclusion, they must kick things off with a strong start in the season opener.

1. The Rangers’ stars must live up to high expectations

One of the main factors contributing to the Rangers’ dramatic failure last season was their star players disappearing from the ice. If the Blueshirts want to get off to a hot start, their top players must make an impact.

Artemi Panarin, the Rangers’ highest regular season producer with a 1.12 point per game ratio, only notched two assists in seven games against New Jersey. Panarin is looking to bounce back this season with a fresh new look, but he only scored one point in three games throughout preseason- in a year where the Rangers finished 1-5.

Mika Zibanejad also has high expectations heading into game one. He led the Blueshirts in goals scored last year with 39 and must look to maintain his goal-scoring abilities against Buffalo.

The Sabres, although not as skilled as the Rangers’ offense, still possess some highly skilled players who could give the Rangers a run for their money. Tage Thompson recorded 47 goals for Buffalo last season, and Zibanejad will look to outscore the American center.

To beat Buffalo in game one, the Rangers’ stars must play hard. There is no room for top players to disappear, as the Blueshirts have a difficult couple of weeks in the early portion of their 2023-24 schedule.

2. The kids must assimilate into the top six with ease

Unsurprisingly, each member of the “kid line” has found their way into a top-six role. Newly hired head coach Peter Laviolette claimed he would make it happen, and based on today’s lines from the final practice before opening night, he stuck to his word.

“I’ve played many games in this league already, so it feels easier,” Kakko said. “You know what to expect. You know how it feels and you know what’s going to happen. The season is going to be a lot of games, but I’m ready for that.”

via Vincent Z. Mercogliano of Lohud

Kaapo Kakko is projected to start the season on the first line, with Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere on the second. Each kid is at a different stage of development, with Chytil looking the most promising and Lafreniere the least. Chytil managed to score 45 points in a breakout campaign last year, while Lafreniere only netted 39 with more games played.

This is the first time that all three players will be members of the Rangers’ top six, and there is no time for them to adjust. Hopefully, training camp has been enough to help the kids ease into their bigger roles. If not, having half of the players on the Rangers’ top two lines faulted could be detrimental to beating Buffalo.

3. The Rangers need to begin the game at a faster pace

One issue the Rangers have that was exploited multiple times in preseason is their inconsistent level of effort throughout games. Too many times have the Blueshirts fallen down by multiple goals early on, causing them to repeatedly make comeback attempts in the third period.

Laviolette is aware of this issue and has tried his best to condition his players, but fans will see if the coach’s practices are making improvements tomorrow night. The Rangers must hit the ice running and hope to take an early lead. If they fall behind early and the team isn’t bringing in maximum levels of effort immediately, the Rangers could very fall to 0-1 after opening night against the Sabres.

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