2006-12-01 / Sports

Straka Strong Start Key To Rangers Chemistry

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist


GREENBURGH, NY - As the season ended last year, Martin Straka had to make a decision; either return to the Rangers or retire from the NHL and head back to Europe.

As the offseason commenced, the decision was pretty easy for the 34 year-old.

"I liked it here," Straka said. "I had a great time last year and we had a great bunch of guys. We have a great team this year, so I figured let's give it a shot one more year. "

For the Blueshirts, that turned out to be the right move. Straka is enjoying one of his best seasons in his 14 year NHL career. He has scored five goals in the last four games, including the game winner in Pittsburgh with 2.2 seconds left last Saturday.

Overall, he has 14 goals with 14 assists, which puts him ahead of the pace he had in 1998-99 when he enjoyed his best season playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Playing on a line with Alexi Kovalev and Robert Lang, he scored 35 goals with 48 assists, which bettered any year until now.

Part of the reason is that he plays with both Michael Nylander and Jaromir Jagr on the line with him and Straka is finding himself open more times than not.

"Jags and Mickey are going great jobs," he said. "They make it so much easier for me.

"I have to thank Jags and Michael. Jags gets two guys on him most of the time and Michael has the puck most of the time, so I am the open guy."

It was the same last year, although Straka did bounce around more, since Martin Rucinsky also played left wing. Now, though, he is always on the top line and the chemistry has been impeccable.

"You know what's going to happen with Jags," Straka said. "And Mickey carries the puck through the neutral zone and you try to get open. Sometimes you don't even look because you know where they will be."

Straka is not just fortunate to have good linemates. He also is one of the hardest working players on the Rangers. Because of that, Straka has improved his shot and is able to create more opportunities for himself when he is open.

"It's funny how opportunity follow people who work really hard," said coach Tom Renney. "Marty has a great release and an ability to score. He's a confident player right now."

It's that confidence which gives the Rangers a third scoring option, after Jagr and Brendan Shanahan and pretty soon other teams may be not letting him stay open, and that can only improve Jagr's game.

He laughs at the thought of being double teamed, but all this scoring is making Renney and the rest of the Rangers thankful he made the right decision to come back.

"It starts with the attitude he brings to the rink everyday," Renney said. "That selflessness makes him a pretty important guy for the New York Rangers."

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