Rangers Brass, Players Look To Erase Mid-Season Blues
First it's too hot, then too cold and finally, it's just right.
After a torrid start had Rangers fans dreaming of Stanley Cup glory, the team fell to earth with a run of mediocre performances. It rediscovered its form on a recent road trip and won its final game before the All-Star break to recapture first place in the Atlantic Division and with it, perhaps a more sober optimism
"The numbers don't lie," Rangers head coach Tom Renney told The Wave after the team defeated the Anaheim Ducks on January 20 in its final game before the break. "Early in the season we were able to crank out some wins that gave us a bit of a cushion so that when we did struggle we had some points on our side. Of late, I think we've been a pretty good team."
The team started the season with five straight wins, tying a franchise record set in 1983. It won 10 of its first 13 games for 21 points, something no Rangers team had done before in the team's 82-year history.
What followed were "five weeks of mediocre hockey," in Renney's words; a 9-9-1 record from November 1 through December 12 before the team captured nine of a possible 12 points from six games leading up to the break. Renney said the team's shifting fortunes were a reflection of starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's participation.
The team's lone all-star, and by all accounts its best player, is having a stellar season and has been needed to make big saves at key moments of games. More often than not, Lundqvist has come through in the clutch. This reason, probably more than any other, explains the team's perch in first place.
"We went through a stretch where we had to work really hard to earn some points and get the game going," Lundqvist said of the team's 4-2 win over the Ducks, when he saved 30 of 32 shots. "Right now, we have a pretty good feeling ... I think we are where we want to be."
Renney agreed. "I think our team deserves the opportunity to relish what we have been able to accomplish in terms of wins, points and certain parts of our game," he said. "Our penalty kills have been excellent. As much as our scoring has been minimal, I think it has been fairly balanced."
Rangers captain Chris Drury is also pleased with the team's recent run of form. "We are on a pretty good run here," he said after the Ducks game. "I like what we are doing. I think we are getting better every week. That is what you have to do to have success down the stretch."
The stretch run is still months away, but the weeks ahead could be telling. The team's hold on first place is tenuous; it has a one point lead on secondplace New Jersey and three points on third-place Philadelphia. But both the Devils and Flyers had, at the time of this article, played fewer games than the Rangers. Immediately after the allstar break, the Blueshirts are faced with a tough stretch of the schedule, including games at Pittsburgh (who had the Rangers number in a nationally televised 3-0 defeat on January 18) and the Eastern Conference's best team, the Boston Bruins.
Games with New Jersey, Washington and Philadelphia are also on the docket before mid-February. By that point, Rangers fans could have a more conclusive view on where this season might lead. The team's coach, for one, is optimistic. "I think what we have done lately suggests that we are coming back into what we want to be and have success," Renney said.