Rangers vs. Canadiens Preview: Breaking Down the Big Guns

Andrew Capitelli@@acapitelliContributor IFebruary 22, 2013

Rangers vs. Canadiens Preview: Breaking Down the Big Guns

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    On Tuesday, the New York Rangers hosted the Montreal Canadiens in what was the most boring hockey game in the history of the world.

    Montreal didn't register a shot on goal until around the four-minute mark. They also had to have come horrifyingly close to breaking the record for most icings in a single game in NHL history.

    The Rangers, on the other hand, seemed to do nothing but bang their head repeatedly against the proverbial wall which was the Canadiens' neutral zone trap.

    Rangers coach John Tortorella said, "It’s probably one of the worst hockey games I’ve been a part of, both teams" (h/t New York Daily News).

    It certainly was a doozy.

    What's even more exciting is that we get a rematch on Saturday in Montreal, so be sure to mark that one on your calendar.

    In all seriousness, though, we're going to preview that game by taking a look at both teams' star players at each position. 

    Take note, though, that Rick Nash will not be included because he did not travel with the Rangers to Ottawa for their game on Thursday night, and it is unsure whether or not he will join the team in Montreal on Saturday.

Brad Richards vs. Tomas Plekanec

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    Brad Richards is not the Rangers' best center at the moment, but he's being included in this comparison because he's supposed to be.

    He could actually learn a lot from a guy like Tomas Plekanec, who leads the Canadiens in points with 13. 

    Plekanec is a guy who not only plays well in all three zones but also can be used in any situation: five-on-five, penalty kill, power play. It doesn't matter—the man gets it done.

    Richards does not kill penalties regularly and is also one of the reasons the Rangers' power play is last in the NHL. He only has two power-play points this season. Plekanec, on the other hand, has seven.

    Plekanec also is a strong skater, a good passer and knows when to hold on to the puck and when to move it.

    Richards has become the complete opposite: He's a step behind nearly everyone, his playmaking ability is nowhere near what it used to be, and the number of turnovers he hands other teams has become seriously alarming.

    Edge: Pretty obvious here: Plekanec.

Marian Gaborik vs. Max Pacioretty

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    Last season, both Max Pacioretty and Marian Gaborik had banner years

    Pacioretty put up career numbers in games played, goals, assists, points, PIMs—the whole nine yards.

    Gaborik, despite only putting up career numbers in the games-played category, registered 40-plus goals for the second time in three years as a Ranger. 

    Needless to say, both players were expected to have big years in 2012-13.

    But it hasn't panned out that way.

    Both players have had a little success thus far: Pacioretty does have nine assists, and Gaborik has come up big on a few occasions, like his hat trick against Boston earlier this season.

    But Pacioretty only registered his first goal of the season on Monday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, while Gaborik has been invisible most nights, despite accumulating seven goals.

    Statistics aren't everything, though, and that's what separates these players right now.

    Gaborik is a natural-born goal scorer. That's what he does. So when he's not doing that, he really isn't doing much. 

    Pacioretty, on the other hand, brings more to the table than offensive production. He's a big body and a strong skater, so despite struggling on the scoresheet, he still has a lot to offer his team. 

    Edge: Pacioretty. 

Ryan Callahan vs. Brian Gionta

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    Both Americans, both captains and both very important to their respective teams.

    But these two are very different players.

    Brian Gionta, 34 years old now, is a speed and skill-driven player. He's a perennial 20-goal guy who's topped out at 48 way back in 2005-06 when he was with the New Jersey Devils.

    Last season he missed 51 games due to injury and only scored eight goals in the 31 games he did play in. His scoring struggles have continued into 2013, as he's only potted three in 16 games thus far.

    Gionta is getting up there in age and definitely has more to give, but it's safe to say his glory days are behind him. He's become a solid second-line option.

    Ryan Callahan, on the other hand, is 27 and in the prime of his career. He's coming off a season in which he established career highs in every category. His 29 goals were only second to Gaborik's 41 on the team.

    As everyone knows, it's not just scoring that Callahan does well. He's becoming one of the league's best defensive forwards, he's a top penalty killer, and he was the Rangers' leading scorer on the power play last season. 

    On top of all that, he's got a mean streak and is willing to give up his body for the team. He's the real deal and one of the league's best captains.

    Edge: Callahan; he currently brings much more to the table.

Dan Girardi vs. Andrei Markov

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    Last year Dan Girardi had a monster season that saw him receive a fair amount of recognition throughout the league. 

    It's been all about determination for Girardi; he was signed by the Rangers as an undrafted free agent and has seemed to improve every year since. 2011-12 was the culmination of it all, as he appeared in his first NHL All-Star Game and even finished sixth in Norris Trophy voting.

    His style is that of an old-school, steady stay-at-home defenseman. You won't see him making end-to-end rushes, but you will see him out there against the opposition's top players, breaking up plays and making solid outlet passes.

    Andrei Markov is a player who's been riddled with injury since the 2008-09 season. He actually appeared in fewer than 100 games over the previous three seasons combined.

    But he's back this season, healthy and ready to go, which is really good news for the Canadiens, because when he's at the top of his game, he's their best defenseman and maybe their best player.

    Markov has always been a guy known for his excellent offensive contribution from the back end. He's accumulated over 40 assists three times in his career. He's even already got 10 points so far this season.

    But what's really impressed about Markov early in this campaign is his steady defensive play. That, paired with his solid offensive numbers, has people believing he could be an early-season Norris Trophy candidate.

    Edge: Markov by a hair. His overall game is better at this point.

Henrik Lundqvist vs. Carey Price

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    Price vs. Lundqvist is a matchup of two world-class goaltenders.

    What else is there to say about Henrik Lundqvist? He's carried the Rangers on his shoulders for the past seven seasons, and in the process he's appeared in several All-Star Games, received multiple Vezina nominations and even won the award in 2011-12. 

    His deep-in-the-net style allows him an extra split second to react to shots, which makes it very difficult for any shooter to beat Lundqvist off an initial attempt.

    His post-to-post speed is also as good as it gets, plus his patience and focus make it a chore for any player in the league to put one past him. Just ask Steven Stamkos

    As for Carey Price, he's finally coming into his own as a top goalie in this league.

    When he broke onto the scene in 2007-08, he was touted as Canada's next great goalie. But over the course of the next two seasons, it seemed that the pressure of being a Montreal Canadien got to him, as he went through some growing pains.

    But luckily for Montreal, they were brief, and he's back on the top of his game. 

    He's currently sporting a sub-2.00 goals against average and has looked very impressive so far this season.

    His size and calming presence between the pipes has been one of the reasons the Canadiens find themselves near the top of the standings.

    Edge: Lundqvist. He's The King; there's nobody better in the biz.