Lets be honest: nobody quite knows what to expect with Saturday nights puck drop between the Bruins and Rangers.
After missing the first four months of the NHL season due to the lockout and dropping players at varying conditioning levels right into a training camp that didnt even last a single week, there will be pockets of ragged hockey. It will start off fast, furious and intense and will probably devolve into mental gaffes, lazy penalties and labored shifts as the game wears on into the third period.
The Bruins might have a leg up on other teams after watching 12 players skate in Europe tops among the 30 NHL teams but both the Bs and the Rangers should be in the same boat as regular season play begins. Both Eastern Conference titans will be looking to make a statement, but theyll also be plenty of curiosity about what each team has out on the ice.
Were no different than any other team. You cross your fingers a little bit and hope that theres as much cohesion and sharpness as you can have at this time, and you hope you have more than the other team just like any other night in the regular season, said Bruins coach Claude Julien. Right now were starting at the same exact point after being locked out for months and then having a six-day training camp.
We just need to keep the game simple. Its the same when you come back from an injury or youre coming back for a new season. There are a lot of guys that arent 100 percent as far as having their hands, stick-handling or skating, so dont overcomplicate things and making it more difficult than it needs to be.
Keeping it simple will be doubly important for rookies like Dougie Hamilton and new team additions like Rick Nash in their first go-rounds with new hockey clubs, but that will be easier said than done once the bodies start bumping and the puck starts flying.
It might not always be pretty in the early going and it will be a stiff challenge for some players unprepared to begin games with NHL intensity, but it will be NHL hockey finally back at TD Garden.
That should be good enough for everybody.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRED PUMPED: Milan Lucic faced plenty of tough questions in training camp after opting to stay away from the ice for long periods of times during the four-month NHL lockout. The Bruins power forward also was one of several Bruins players that looked a couple of steps behind in Tuesday nights scrimmage against the Providence Bruins. That is a difficult beginning for a big-bodied forward that typically is a slow starter in training camp to begin with, and puts some curious eyes on No. 17 to see where hes at. Lucic could quiet all of the questions by coming out and scoring a goal or two in the first game against the Rangers, and maybe even throwing fists with Mike Rupp to bring the house down.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: Its more a matter of being able to perform at a high level and being able to maintain it for 60 minutes. That is going to be a challenge in and of itself. You may see tonight that in the third period rather than getting better it gets worsewho knows? Is fatigue going to set in and are guys going to be smart enough to get off early enough to keep themselves fresh? These are all things that the guys need to realize.
KEY MATCHUP: Rick Nash will be skating with Brad Richards and speedy Carl Hagelin, so that most likely means that Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk will out against them with Claude Julien holding the last change. It should be a titanic battle between the brawny 6-foot-4 Nash in his first game with the Rangers and Chara playing with an edge after playing in the skill-heavy KHL over the last four months. The 6-foot-9 inch Bs captain is clearly looking to hit somebody, and that should fit in well with a game that will be played at a frenetic pace to start out. The expectation is that it will take a while for a guy like Nash to get used to playing with new teammates in John Tortorellas demanding system, but theres also little doubt hell be looking to make a splash in his debut.
STAT TO WATCH: 14 the number of games between the Bruins and Rangers out of the last 17 that have been one-goal decisions in tightly contested battles over the last five years.
INJURIES: Marc Savard (concussion) isnt expected to play this season. Arron Asham is serving out a suspension for the New York Rangers earned during the playoffs last season.
GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: Tuukka Rask is just taking over for Tim Thomas, but has faced the Rangers in his fair share of games over the years because his Bruins goaltending partner didnt enjoy playing under the different theatre lighting at Madison Square Garden. So Rask is 2-3-1 with a 1.83 goals against average and .939 save percentage in six matchups against the Blueshirts over the years. Meanwhile Henrik Lundqvist is simply dominating the Bruins like no other goaltender in the league, and is now 19-6-2 with a 1.53 goals against average, a .947 save percentage and six shutouts in 27 games against the Bruins.