Well, my first of what I hope to be many posts. There isn't much to report in Rangerland. You know, the sun rises in the east, the Rangers go 10-2-1 to soar to the top of the Eastern Conference. Oh, wait. That means there IS indeed something to report. Not only did the Rangers have a quick start to a season for the first time in several years, all this while travelling thousands of miles to play two in Bern, Switzerland but then travel a bit further to open the year with a back-to-back set against a Tampa club that underwent a major face lift in the off season. New owners, new GM, Barry Melrose as coach, and more than ten new players on their everyday roster.
I think it's safe to say not many people knew how this team would fare in 08-09 with our team's own roster change. Jagr, Straka, Avery, Shanahan, Hollweg, Backman, Tyutin, Malik, Strudwick; GONE. In came Wade Redden, Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Fritsche, Aaron Voros, Patrick Rissmiller, and Dmitri Kalinin. Not to mention an opening night roster spot to Lauri Korpikoski, who has since been sent down to Hartford after a less-than stellar seven games with the big club.
Personally, I liked the pickups the Rangers made at the time, but thought the new talent would not match the likes of our former captain and co. But 10-2-1 does not come from a talentless team (i.e. Islanders). An impressive record after a condensed opening month later, and I can safely say some addition by subtraction happened at the worlds most famous arena.
Aaron Voros, a player originally drafted by the Devils who saw his first NHL action in Minnesota has replaced Mr. Vogue, Sean Avery quite nicely. A relatively unknown player has stepped in nicely. He has cooled since a hot start, but his presence on a poor power play has been known.
Markus Naslund is the exact opposite. After scoring the Rangers first goal of the season in Prague, Naslund went into a cold spell. Currently, Naslund has the hot hand, and is one-point off the team lead of 12...right behind the most exciting Ranger, newcomer Nik Zherdev. With clutch performances in recent games against former squad Colombus, and last night against Atlanta, the shortcomings that ended his tenure in Columbus has not been a problem in the big apple. For example, a diving poke check to stop a short handed breakaway by center Todd White in the 2nd of a 1-1 game. Clearly, Zherdev is learning from teammates Chris Drury and Blair Betts on how to play some defense, as he leads the league with a +8 rating.
As for Rissmiller, Fritsche, Korpikoski, Prucha....Sather's opportunity to waive Rissmiller is evidence that he made a mistake on July 1. All these players are interchangeable, and Tom Renney knows that; changing the third line winger spot like one might change their socks. Prucha and his $1.6 million dollar salary are going to be hard to move. Rissmiller will be gone, I surmise, my the trade deadline for a pick, and Korpedo will remain in Hartford getting some playing time until he's needed on Broadway.
Not surprisingly, the Rangers defense, led by stellar play from Henrik Lundqvist has been solid. Redden, plagued by some tendinitis, will get better. Girardi, since joining the team in 2007 has continued to improve, filling the hole left by former D partner Fedor Tyutin. Kalinin, after spending his entire pro career in Buffalo, has stepped in nicely, currently holding down 3rd-pair minutes with Michal Rozsival. But what I think has made the subtractions of Tyutin, Backman, Strudwick, and even fan favorite Marek Malik okay, is the ever improving all around game of Marc Staal. Not to mention Paul (my facial hair still thinks its the playoffs) Mara is playing his best hockey as a member of the Blueshirts. He plays with the needed grit and sandpaper that most of the D-corps lack.
Throw in solid starts by Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Gomez, Ryan Callahan, and the entire fourth line, and here we are. So yea, maybe there is some news in Rangerland.
But where is this team heading as the page turns and the November schedule begins with a visit to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto? And I'm not just talking about the possibility of a Colton Orr-Ryan Hollweg showdown. I think moving forward, this team will go through some rough patches, as most teams do. But what separates the good from the great is those rough patch are rare, and when they do come, they go just as quickly.
Beating the teams we're supposed to beat (Islanders, Maple Leafs, Panthers, Tampa, and assorted Western Conference teams as they come and go) is imperitive. Last season this was not always the case, and those extra points that are lost are the ones that win or lose a division.
The Devils are a better team than on paper. The Flyers have trouble beating the Rangers, especially in Philly. Pittsburgh still has the firepower up front, but missing Gonchar and Whitney on the back end is hurting. The Islanders are clearly the red-headed stepchild of the division. But if the Rangers play their game and shut down the opposing forwards, we can beat any team on any given night. And even if we can't completely shut down the other teams big guns, we have that Henrik chump in the cage.
So....going forward, expect good things from this years Rangers team. They've proven they can come from behind, score goals in the clutch, and play well defensively. But don't expect to lose only twice in regulation every 13 games. I mean, if they do, they'll be knocking on the door of the 95-96 Red Wings record for wins in a year of 62 and the points total of the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens with 132. Only one of those teams won the cup anyway. I won't tell you which, so first prize to the person that gets it right.
Tomorrow I'll preview the Rangers-Maple Leafs game and have post post-game recap. Expect to see Stephen Valiquette in net, and maybe even the line of Voros-Dubinsky-Zherdev line reuniting and Dan Fritsche centering...wait for it....wait.......Markus Naslund and Captain Clutch.