The opener against an improving, yet still middling Florida team now behind them, the Rangers have no delusions about what they face tomorrow night in Ottawa.
In fact, I’ll make the case that last night was the best case scenario for the Rangers, for the following reasons: they got two points, they built up some confidence based on their third-period comeback, but they were also reminded right away that they can’t expect to sleep walk through a game like they did the first two periods and expect to win.
Bear in mind that was one of the pitfalls of last year, when they stormed through the opener against the Capitals, snuck past a mediocre Philadelphia team on the road, then immediately thought the rest of the way would be easy. But it wasn’t, seeing how they went on to lose the next three, which set them on the rocky path of the first part of the season.
But this is a new year, with new players, and immediately, some questions arise from today’s practice:
Defense: Tom Renney said he’s got some thinking to do on his back end, and my educated guess is that Paul Mara’s slot might be in play. I’m basing that only on Renney’s reaction to Mara’s ill-advised double minor in the second period. Asked about whether he liked seeing the defenseman rush to the aid of Scott Gomez at the time, Renney said it was noble, but that he questioned the timing. If Mara, or anyone else sits, it’s still unclear whether Jason Strudwick or Thomas Pock — or both — would play.
The third line: As he was at the end of last night, Blair Betts skated in between Petr Prucha and Ryan Callahan in practice, with Brandon Dubinsky slipped down between Ryan Hollweg and the platoon of Colton Orr and Marcel Hossa. Renney said he wasn’t punishing Dubinsky but that he liked the poise Betts added to that line late. “It was a game we needed to win, it’s that simple,” the coach said. “Brandon will get his opportunity to carry the load under those circumstances in the future for sure.”
Marcel Hossa: Don’t be surprised to see the mercurial wing back in the lineup tomorrow. Renney said he was fighting the decision last night as well, and at times he thought there were points when Hossa could have helped, particularly on the penalty kill and when the team needed some offensive jump. Hossa certainly helps in that regard, but Colton Orr has at least improved his skating enough where he’s no longer just an enforcer.
Finally, it’s not a question but a stat worth noting: The Rangers won 33 of 56 faceoffs last night, with Scott Gomez and Chris Drury going a combined 25-12. I asked both players about the key to their success in that area, and Gomez immediately laughed. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “Because as soon as I do it becomes the kiss of death.”
OK, more later…