Rangers' roster moves pay off
Share with others:
In Ottawa, the Penguins faced a team that got out of the gate fast this season, but limped down the stretch. That made for a mismatch in the Penguins' four-game, first-round sweep in the playoffs.
In the New York Rangers, the Penguins are facing something of an inverted image of the Senators.
After a slow start, the Rangers flew down the stretch, going 15-3-7 in their final 25 regular-season games to clinch what had been a tenuous playoff spot. Then, they dispatched New Jersey in five games in the opening round of the playoffs.
Their 5-4 loss to the Penguins in Game 1 of the second round Friday was their only regulation defeat in their past 10 games and the second in their past 16 games, both stretches dating to the regular season.
What was something of a building experiment coming into this season seems to have worked. Whether it works well enough to get past the red-hot Penguins remains to be seen.
"I guess we'll find out in the next little while if we've arrived," said Rangers coach Tom Renney, who proclaimed his team ready for Game 2 today at Mellon Arena.
New York had a compelling reason to rebuild under Renney and general manager Glen Sather.
"Probably missing the playoffs for the seventh straight year before the [2004-05] lockout had a lot to do with us redefining how we want to do our business," Renney said.
He calls his club "a work in progress," but that seemed like a stretch early on this season.
After returning to the postseason in 2006, New York was swept in the first round by New Jersey. Last year, the Rangers swept Atlanta before falling in six games to Buffalo in the second round.
The Rangers will have to get past the Penguins to keep the improvement going.
The club already had a franchise goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist when it added players such as centers Scott Gomez (four goals, eight points in the playoffs) and Chris Drury (three goals, one assist) this season and gave a couple rookies a chance to compliment veterans such as wingers Jaromir Jagr (two goals, eight points) and Brendan Shanahan (one goal, three assists) and center Martin Straka (two goals, five assists).
On paper, it looked like a team that could score blindfolded and win. It didn't happen.
At least, not right away.
New York went 3-6-1 in its first 10 games, averaging 1.8 goals scored. By the season's midpoint, the Rangers were 20-17-4 and scoring better, 2.3 goals a game.
"There's a lot of guys who are new to the team, and it takes a while to build chemistry and lines," said defenseman Marc Staal, one of the rookies who is making an impact. "We learned the system playing together, so I'm sure the more experience we have together, the better we've gotten.
"We had a little bit of a tough start to the season, went through some slumps and stuff like that. But we have a lot of guys who have played a long time, so you know that bad turn in the season is not going to go on all season."
Staal, who had two assists in Game 1 to go with an earlier goal, is one of four New York rookies who have played all six playoff games. Center Brandon Dubinsky has three goals, six points; winger Nigel Dawes a goal and two assists; and winger Ryan Callahan a goal and an assist. When the chemistry kicked in, the offense followed.
"We have four great lines," Dubinsky said. "We should be one of the deepest teams in the NHL."
Over their last 25 regular-season games, the Rangers scored 73 goals, nearly three a game.
Even in losing Game 1 Friday night, the Rangers did something Ottawa could not. The Senators didn't score as many as four goals in a game against the Penguins in the first round, while averaging 1.22 goals a game.
"Initially, when you're not scoring, you look at that roster and you think, 'We should be able to score,' " Renney said. "We hung in there with it and continued to try to develop an offensive game plan. And as we were doing so, we did pay attention to our defensive game. ... That maybe initially took a little bit away from the growth of our offensive game.
"It all takes time. We can only hope that we can continue to do what we've done in these last few weeks."
First Published April 27, 2008 12:00 am