For starters…

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I found myself asking a silly question to players today: “How important is it to get off to a good start?”

It’s silly for a lot of reasons, one being that I’m pretty sure no one was about to respond, “It’s not important at all. In fact, I’d prefer to get off to a horrible start.”

But I asked the question anyway because of the context. Bear in mind the Rangers flew out of the gate in 2005-06 and stumbled at the end, then turned around and did the exact opposite last year. By the time they started last spring’s playoffs, almost everyone around the team said the important part was that they were playing their best hockey at the right time.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But I do think a strong start is important for a number of reasons, including:

  • Positive reinforcement. You don’t want to have made all these moves in the off-season and immediately start questioning why you made them. For all that Brendan Shanahan provided last year, one of the biggest boosts to his credibility was the fact that he started producing almost immediately. Maybe Chris Drury and Scott Gomez don’t need to be leading the league in goals at month’s end. But they do need to offer a glimpse of what they will provide come springtime. Which brings up my next point…
  • Expectations. The Rangers didn’t handle them well to start last season, and they eventually faced the wrath of their fan base (ahem). Again, this team isn’t going to be judged by what it does in October. But beginning tomorrow is when they officially start wearing targets on their backs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist. This is the biggest one. As Lundqvist told me today, one of the remarkable aspects of his shouldering the load last year was that he never got tired. But that’s not something you can count on.

    “Sometimes you’re on a roll when you don’t get tired and just keep playing. That’s what happened last year,� Lundqvist said. “But you can also get tired after 15 games. It all depends on how we play. Hopefully we can get a few good games going and I can relax and I won’t feel as tired as when the team is struggling. It’s all about mindset and how the team is doing.�

    It just so happened that the Rangers got by playing Lundqvist as heavily as they did last year. But it’s not something you want to test if you don’t have to. One of the benefits of a strong start is you can throw out a Stephen Valiquette (or an Al Montoya) and not completely worry about the consequences. That way if your goaltender needs a rest, you can give him one.

    In other words, there is plenty riding on this first stretch of the schedule. The Rangers won’t make or break their season either way. But they’ll still be setting an important tone.

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    New poll alert. Check it out to the right.

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    12 Comments

    1. Patrick Hoffman on

      Well put, Sam. We all know that when the Rangers have signed big free agents, they have typically had slow starts (Lindros, Fleury, Holik, Robitaille and a slew of others) with the exception of Shanahan.

      If Drury and Gomez can get it going early, everything else should fall into place.

    2. VERY WELL PUT SAM.

      The bottom line is that they “should” win their fare share of games… even when they’re not playing their best. That means winning against teams they “should” win against. They were not doing that last season… right up until late January.

      It’s going to be very important for them not to play “down” to other teams. If they do that, then a good start should be attainable.

    3. A goos start is especially key this season, as teams will be gunning for us much more so than they have the last two seasons (as we saw in the preseason games).

      In other news, RCN in DC will finally be carrying Center Ice this year for the first time. I’m giddy with excitement. No more listening on the radio on my computer.

      Incidentally, are there a lot of DC folks here? We should do meetups or something to check out some games- some good sports bars around these parts that carry Center Ice as well.

    4. True Fans Bleed RW&B on

      The new poll question might be sillier than the question Sam was asking players this morning.

    5. Horrible poll, Sam! One of the givens of the Jagr era is that he will lead the team in scoring (unless Crosby or Thornton end up here)

    6. Hockey is a long season and no team crystalizes its identity in October. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few clunkers early on, including Hank sleep walking through a few games. Given all of the changes, I would be happy to see this team get 12 points through game ten. Establishing a strong PP – making opponents pay for taking penalties would be a good benchmark for early November. Getting juiced for tommorrow night!!!!

    7. Ted aka Anonymous on

      I do not believe that is a silly question. Gomez and Shanny had some good chemistry in the final 2 preseason games. If they start hot and stay warm, which would make us all happy, having Jagr and Shanny chasing each other is not a bad thing.

      Jagr has yet to gel with Drury but we all know it will happen, eventually. How quick is the ??

    8. Regarding the poll…c’mon Sam, you can do better than that!

      How ’bout something like:

      Q: Which of the rookies this season will prove to be the most valuable?

      – Brandon Dubinsky
      – Ryan Callahan
      – Dan Girardi
      – Marc Staal

      Or at least ask something that you know open up some dicussion..

    9. SAM if one of those guys outscores Jagr, either Jagr will have a bad year or they will have a over the top career year. Don’t jinx Jagr & the NYR ;-) He needs to put up a 100+ year.

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