Hey, sorry I’m late again. Had an unexpected situation here at Blog HQ. Nothing major.
As I said yesterday, the three wins in four nights reinforced my belief that this team is better than last year, and should make the playoffs—no guarantee, obviously, with so many teams of equal ability in a conference with two very good teams and everybody else similar.
The Rangers’ made a few decent moves in the off-season, but no big splash, and you could even argue that one of them—the enforcer—was unnecessary. They got the backup goalie they needed. They got Alex Frolov, who works hard and is better in both ends of the rink than a lot of the other guys who were supposed to score the last few years; but he hasn’t yet produced. Then they added Ruslan Fedotenko, who was another of the type they already had, but maybe an upgrade on some, and certainly a good addition with Vinny Prospal out.
No, in order for this team to be better, the improvement, I thought, would have to come from within.
And so far it has.
Do I think the three-game euphoria is for real? No. They will be up and down and up and down. They’re not that good where they’re just going to go out and win 50 games and finish top four in the conference. At least, I don’t think they will.
But what I saw in camp and in the preseason was improvement:
1) We saw the addition by subtraction: Wade Redden, Olli Jokinen, Enver Lisin, Ales Kotalik, Chris Higgins, Donald Brashear (am I missing anybody?).
2) I saw what Derek Stepan brought immediately. I expect he will go through some struggles. But he’s as good as you could expect.
3) I saw how hard Michael Del Zotto worked over the summer to get bigger and stronger, and we already knew he might be something special, even if he hasn’t been stellar so far. Likewise, we are learning how much work guys like Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, Matt Gilroy and Michal Rozsival put in, too. And we expected that this would be an important improvement year for Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Dan Girard; and wondered if it could be a bounce-back year for Sean Avery.
Well, pretty much across the board, we have seen those individual improvements. And we have also seen a bit of a transformation, at least outwardly, in coach John Tortorella, who is embracing this movement to get younger, and more importantly, to be a teacher and a nurturer and to have patience, to not put winning a single game ahead of the progress of his players.
Then, when the preseason games began, we started seeing that this team is capable of scoring goals, and not just counting on Marian Gaborik. More crucial, we started seeing a team that plays with some passion, doesn’t go into glide mode, pressures the puck, creates a forecheck, is more than willing to knock bodies around, and sacrifice their own in front of shots. And finally, a team that sticks up for one another, and there is no way to measure how much that means to a team, how bonding it is when one player has another’s back, and it goes right down the line. How an all-for-one attitude changes everything, and how badly that was missing last year.
Again, I’m not calling Mayor Bloomberg to reserve the Canyon of Heroes just yet. I think it will go down to the final week or so, just like it does every year, for a playoff berth.
I just like the direction. I really do. Even if they lose tomorrow or lose three in a row next week.