The San Jose Sharks will square off with the New York Rangers tonight and are looking for their third consecutive victory to start the 2013-14 NHL season. We talked with Shawn Taggart from Blue Line Station to get the low down on the Blueshirts heading into tonight’s contest.
Blades of Teal: The Rangers have a ridiculously tough start to the season and are playing a lot of consecutive games on the road. This week alone they take on the Los Angeles Kings, Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. How important are these games from an identity standpoint?
Shawn Taggart: From an identity standpoint, these games are important. This entire 9 game road trip is important for the team to really gel, and start forming their new identity, as well as starting to get their chemistry together. This week is their toughest task, 3 games in the west before finally going to St. Louis, but I’m not worried. The Rangers will get their legs, and get everything together and be fine. If they split this week, it’ll be a successful week. But, 4-0-0, wouldn’t be bad either, obviously.
Blades of Teal: A big storyline heading into this season was the Alain Vigneault effect. For those who haven’t been able to watch the Rangers yet this year, how has he changed the approach and style of play for the New York?
Shawn Taggart: First off the biggest thing is that the defense likes to get more involved on the play. They like to skate up and pinch in the offensive zone, skate up to the zone themselves, and try to make scoring chances.
Their powerplay has also changed, in the fact that they’re are a lot of shots being taken from the point. A lot of chances being made from there to generate the offense. We get to see four lines roll out, and we get to see rookies play through their mistakes. Granted, it’s only a few games into the regular season, but the way that AV has changed the philosophy it’s made a lot of people excited, and I’m interested in seeing what’s next.
Blades of Teal: We all know that Rick Nash and Derek Stepan are outstanding players, but who has surprised you so far in 2013-14? Any hotshot youngsters we should keep an eye out for? Or a particular bottom-six guy who is playing above his head a bit?
Shawn Taggart: You can’t go a day without Marc Staal being mentioned by me. He’s been awesome so far, and has returned to form
to be a shut down guy, but yet at the same time, has shown some offensive flash to his game. Him being on the powerplay will do the Rangers wonders, because he has a shot from the point, and isn’t afraid to use it. He’ll continue blasting that shot from the point.
Another player I’ve been impressed with is Mats Zuccarello. He’s one guy that I knew going into the season had something to prove, and is going to show that he is a solid two way player deserving of a longer term deal with the team next year. He has impressed a lot on the Pouliot-Brassard line, and he has a shot. He’s going to get a lot of long looks from AV this season. I hope he proves himself worthy of staying. I like him a lot.
Blades of Teal: What’s surprised you the most about the Rangers so far through the first few games? In either a positive or negative way.
Shawn Taggart: So far what’s surprised me is the defense playing more aggressive in the offensive zone. Which in turn has caused defensive lapses, and caused 2-3 goals on Thursday against Phoenix.
A huge disappointment is Brad Richards. He has seemingly lost his flash, and his legs, and him moving to the wing didn’t really do anything positive to help prove his case that he deserved to stay with the Rangers after last years disastrous season.
Rick Nash standing up for Derek Stepan, was quite a surprise. Not because of who fought, but the fact that someone stood up for a Rangers player, something that never happened last year. I expect the Rangers to play a little more tougher, and fight for one another, but still, quite the surprise. Wasn’t use to that.
Blades of Teal: What’s your opinion on the Henrik Lundqvist contract situation? It doesn’t impact the game against the Sharks directly, but is there any chance that this storyline is a bit of a distraction until it’s settled up?
Shawn Taggart: The Henrik Lundqvist contract situation shouldn’t be a distraction, but we all know that isn’t the case. While we have this season with him, it’s going to become a distraction if one of the parties become public about it. He wants to stay in New York, and deep down I know he will stay there, but right now he has to focus on this season, and has to focus on being the successful goalie that we know he is.
A lot of talk during the preseason, and after last Thursday’s game was that he thrived on Tortorella’s system, and was good only because of that, but we know that’s false. He’s an elite goaltender in the league, and he’s going to stay that way. Just has to get the rust out of his system. He’s notably a slow starter.
Blades of Teal would like to thank Shawn for taking time out of his day to answer some pregame questions for us here at Blades of Teal. Check out the Blue Line Station for all your Rangers needs.