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Rangers hoping to get defensive vs. Avalanche

The New York Rangers are coming off a third straight 100-point season and looking to build toward a championship; the Colorado Avalanche were so bad last season that it's almost impossible for this season to be worse.

The two teams will open their seasons against each other at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night in New York.

The Rangers overcame a shoddy defense in 2016-17 to reach the second round of the playoffs, where they were upset by the Ottawa Senators in six games. GM Jeff Gorton revamped the back end by buying out Dan Girardi and signing the offensively gifted Kevin Shattenkirk to a massive contract.

Henrik Lundqvist endured his worst season last year since entering the NHL in 2005-06, so the Rangers are hoping Shattenkirk's presence helps fortify the defense and take pressure off the veteran goaltender.

"I think as soon as you get labeled as an offensive guy, they just assume you can't play defense a lot of times," Shattenkirk said to the New York Daily News. "I'm in a new place now and it's up to me to prove that and make sure I can live up to that side of the job as well, which is the most important part of being a defenseman.

"Everyone plays in different ways. I'm not a guy who's a bruiser and gonna throw guys off of pucks, but as long as you're effective and keep the puck out of your net, I think that's what most important."

The biggest offseason changes for New York occurred with one trade designed to create cap space, dealing top center Derek Stepan and backup goaltender Antti Raanta to the Arizona Coyotes. The Rangers filled the hole left by Stepan from within the organization but had to sign former Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to back up Lundqvist.

"I've really liked his work ethic in practice," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said to the New York Daily News of Pavelec. "So far, he's been improving, and he's proven in the past that he's a real good goaltender and I'm confident he's gonna do that with us this year."

The Avalanche managed 48 points last season, the lowest total since the expansion Atlanta Thrashers totaled 39 points in 1999-2000. Matt Duchene was rumored to be on the trade block throughout the season and then the summer, but he remains on the roster as this season begins.

How his tenuous presence affects the Avalanche remains to be seen.

"I can't really say where his head's at," Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson told The Denver Post. "He's coming to practice every day, working hard, showing up. Whatever he feels, he's kept to himself so far. As long as he's here, he's part of our team and he has to play hard for us."

The only reason to have hope in the Avalanche turning things around is Semyon Varlamov, the team's No. 1 goaltender who missed most of last season after having hip surgery. He hadn't had a save percentage worse than .914 during the three seasons before last year's injury-riddled one, so after an offseason that saw Colorado make no major changes, he's the key to any improvement.

"He looks like he's in a good mood, and I like Varly in a good mood," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said to The Denver Post. "You look at 2013-14, a lot of us want to get back to the way we played that year. Varly can get there. We want a healthy Varly, a Varly who can steal games for us. But we know there's more to it than that. We know we can play good team defense in front of him."

Updated October 4, 2017

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