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TORONTO, ON – NOVEMBER 18: Alexis Lafreniere #13 of the New York Rangers waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on November 18, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Rangers 2-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The wait and sheer anticipation is over.  The NHL 2022-23 season officially arrived this year to lots of the usual fanfare and hoopla and why not?  As a sports-defined culture, the return of sports seasons signifies a return to normalcy in our lives once again.  No more professional sports played in front of empty arenas or stadiums; no more playoffs being played in isolation from fans and even other teams for fear of spreading disease.  Just by starting the NHL season, fans are gaining a level of assurance that things are getting back to the way they used to be and that has to be a good thing.

The New York Rangers have been busy this week and started out the season with a big win at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning then went on road to face the Minnesota Wild in a crazy shootout.  The result: a nice 2-0 record start to the season.  However, before you start looking at buying tickets to the Stanley Cup finals, realize that’s a 2-0 record with 80 more regular season games to go. Note: the Rangers did drop their third regular season game in a late third period collapse to the Winnipeg Jets.  Wins are nice but let’s just take them one at a time before we all fall off the playoff-bound cliff.

A crease built for two.

Rangers stalwart netminder Igor Shesterkin has already put in a heavy workload this week.  Stopping 25 out of 26 shots against the Lightning and 33 out of 36 shots on goal last night against the Wild, Shesterkin is probably looking for a bit of rest and this is where the Rangers goalie tandem comes into play.  Newly-acquired “Ranger killer” Jaroslav Halak won’t be knocking down Blueshirt shots this season but defending the pipes for the Rangers and that’s a small cause for celebration.

Given Halak’s past penchant for hurting the Rangers while goaltending for multiple teams, Halak become a perfect backup plan for head coach Gerard Gallant.  With back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday, Halak will pick up the slack whenever there’s two games in a row and this system should keep Igor Shesterkin fresh and healthier as the season grinds through next spring.

Youngsters rule the Wild.

Early injuries are already taking their toll on the Rangers as Vitali Kravtsov staying home on this early road trip after an upper body injury and Sammy Blais still nursing a nasty hit in the preseason.  When one player goes down, opportunity knocks for another player.  In this case, the Rangers had a scoring fest against the Wild with a 7-3 victory.

As the mantra “next man up” was echoed on the Rangers bench, Alexis Lafreniere used this chance to break into the top-six rotation and garnered the first multiple assist game of his career.  Hanging out on the right wing of the second line with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck (who scored his first goal as a Ranger against the Wild), Lafreniere made his presence known and felt throughout the game.  In fact, the connection between Panarin and Lafreniere was visible and detectable, which could be a harbinger of things to come down the road this season.

 

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