Here’s my story in today’s paper on “Dan Fritsche and Nikolai Zherdev returning to Columbus”:http://www.lohud.com/article/20081024/SPORTS01/810240404/-1/SPORTS, although we can safely say neither return is of the Eddie Giacomin-with-Detroit or Mark Messier-with-Vancouver variety.
Both players spent four seasons with the team, and each held their own appeal—Zherdev twice topping 25 goals, Fritsche being Ohio-born and raised. But both also said they welcomed the trade to New York, if for no other reason than because the Rangers are probably closer to contending for a Stanley Cup while the Blue Jackets have yet to even make the playoffs.
How close are the Rangers to contending for a Stanley Cup? Certainly no closer than they were a week ago, and even then, most of us would put the team’s fast start into the category of an encouraging beginning and nothing more. I believe the Rangers are a better than they’ve been the last four games, particularly when you consider that the likes of Chris Drury, Markus Naslund and even Zherdev are bound to start producing more than they have (or at least you better hope as much).
But even then, there is that underlying concern that each night is going to be a grind to score more than two or three goals. Some of that is a reflection of personnel, and some of that is just the way the team plays, with the constant attention to defensive hockey perhaps coming at the expense of a full-steam attack.
Can you have one without the other? It’s a fair question. As much as the Rangers can point to the Red Wings and say Detroit won its Stanley Cup by minding its own zone first and creating chances in transition, I think some of that is deceptive. A big reason the Red Wings were so proficient at shutting teams down is that they simply wouldn’t let teams have the puck.
So in other words, maybe the key to the Rangers playing well defensively is not to attack less, but to actually attack more. We saw evidence of as much against Tampa Bay in Prague and even last week in Detroit, and on both occasions, the Rangers’ speed seemed to fluster the opponent (or at least temporarily). But when their forecheck is flat, teams seem to pass through the neutral zone with greater ease, and the Rangers are pushed on their heels.
Those are at least one man’s thoughts heading into a critical early-season weekend. It might not make or break the team’s chances over the long haul. But it could be two games that at least crystallize what this team is all about.