OFFENSE WINS GAMES, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
The New York Rangers hope that this old adage holds true for their 2008-2009 NHL season. With the loss of forwards Sean Avery, Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, and, most likely, Brendan Shanahan, the Rangers hope that a bolstered defense and the energy of the young guns they are using to replace these wily veteran scorers will be the right mix to take them the distance in the NHL Playoffs this year.
The acquisition of veteran defensemen Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin will only strengthen the 4thbest defense in the NHL, which was spearheaded last year by Vezina finalist goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The hard hitting Kalinin will be a great influence on youngsters Dan Girardi and Marc Staal and help in their continued development and Redden will help bolster the power play roster by allowing Michal Rozsival a break by coming in as the second unit’s offensive defenseman. The Rangers are hinging a lot of hope on their adding Redden to a power play that was only 22nd in the league last year.
They especially need the power play to pick it up considering they are losing a lot of offense with Jagr and Straka leaving for Europe, and Shanahan still weighing his options, and they were still only 25th in the league last year. Adding veteran sniper Markus Nasland will make up some of the loss, but Chris Drury and Scott Gomez will be expected to pick up most of the slack and they will have to if the Rangers are to do anything this year.
Youngster Brandon Dubinsky looks like he learned a lot from his year with Jagr though as he has started the preseason on fire. You only hope that Naslund’s influence can help focus Dubinsky’s powerful slap shot. If this is the case, Brandon could stun a lot of people as he continues to develop into a star in this league. Also, expect Petr Prucha to make up for his sophomore slump and have a breakout year, especially since he knows he will play every night now that the Rangers have lost some depth at forward.
The Rangers are also adding a lot of players with question marks looming over their heads. The biggest one is Nikolai Zherdev who has the potential to be a big time goal scorer in this league, but seems to lose focus in a moment’s notice. Coach Tom Renney will not tolerate a lack of focus from Zherdev; he is expected to be playing on the top line and the Rangers will need him to have a big year. It’s a lot of pressure on the young man’s shoulders, but it might be just what he needs to get into shape. Pressure can turn coal into diamonds or grind it to dust, and what pressure is there when you play for Columbus? We’ll find out what he’s really made of this year in New York.
The Rangers have the base elements of a really good team. They have scorers, penalty killers, a check line, and a Vezina caliber goalie. They have defensemen that can score and forwards that can defend. So where will the Rangers end up? If everything gels as is expected, then they should improve on last year’s awful offense and maintain their defense. If this happens then the Rangers have the potential to threaten Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference title. If it doesn’t happen, then, unfortunately, we Garden faithful are used to waiting another year for a chance at the cup.
There’s always the Knicks, right? Oh…Wait…Umm…Nevermind…Let’s go Rangers!!!
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