Don’t forget that we will have two new features for Three Rangers Stars starting tonight. One volunteer will pick his three stars to be included in my game wrapup. Still looking for volunteers so that I can line up at least one for each of the 48 games. If you want to volunteer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will assign you a game.
Also we will unveil a poll alongside the “It’s Go Time!” post for each game which will allow you all to vote for the three stars (one vote per person, so wait until the game is over or almost over).
Last but not least, please follow me during games (and not during games) on twitter: @RangersReport.
Here’s my season preview story:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH – The Rangers are better today, and it’s virtually undeniable, than they were on opening night of 2011-12.
Adding power forward Rick Nash, even at some cost in terms of core players, and having Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin and Marc Staal right from the first faceoff gives the Rangers legit top-end talent and loads of speed up front, a solid young defense that is tough and mobile, and perhaps the best goalie in the world.
This to a team that nearly won the Presidents’ Trophy last year, won the East with 51 wins and 109 points and went to the sixth game of the Eastern Conference with an admirable, every-night, gritty style that many opponents were not interested in, or capable of, matching.
So there’s no reason to think they can’t do it again, or maybe take it to the next step and win it all, right?
Except the second act is always harder. It will take more to do just as much. And the Rangers know it.
“This continues to be part of the process and we’ll continue to build on what we did last year and the year before,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “Now this is just another step. We realize that we have to be better than we were last year and we expect that of ourselves.”
“Maybe people will expect more out of us,” added goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “The lockerroom, the guys here, will expect a good performance and we should expect a lot of (ourselves). But at the same time we have to stay humble and I think it’s going to be important how we handle that pressure, the pressure we put on ourselves and the pressure we’re going to feel from the outside.
“We had a great year, but we worked really hard for it. So we have to realize why we had success.”
There’s no way to say the Rangers were lucky, especially when their defense was decimated early on and a few players had down offensive years. But, in part, their record was a product of how they won – team-of-destiny sort of stuff – games that could have gone either way.
For example: Ryan McDonagh’s overtime winner with 1.8 seconds left in Calgary, Brad Richards’ goal with 0.1 seconds left in Phoenix, Lundqvist stopping a penalty shot at the end of the Winter Classic in Philly, Marian Gaborik’s power-play goal with four seconds left in OT in Boston and another with six seconds left in OT against the Islanders.
Then there’s this: The East was so close that, despite their record, they were just one point ahead of Pittsburgh, which didn’t have Sidney Crosby for a lot of the season; and six ahead of Philadelphis even though the Rangers won all six meetings; and seven ahead of the Devils, who were the No. 6 seed.
So it will be tough to repeat, maybe moreso in a 48-game, 99-day season.
“We like our group and we’re not surprising anybody this year,” Richards said. “We’re going to be a target, especially with the additions and the types of players we have, the year we had. So we’re not sneaking up on anybody. It’s going to be harder. We’re going to have to play better than we did last year to finish in the place that we did I think because everybody’s going to be gunning for us.”
One more thing to consider: Did the Rangers lose a golden chance? With Pittsburgh going down early in the playoffs, the Rangers faced the No. 8, No. 7 and No. 6 teams in the playoffs, and would have met the No. 8 seed from the West in the finals if they’d survived the Devils. That kind of roadmap won’t present itself again. Probably.
“I think it’s a huge point in how we handle ourselves with the expectations on us right now, just to make sure we go about it each day at a time,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We had some good things go for us last year; a lot of things fell into place. But on the other hand I thought we handled a number of distractions we had last year, with our travel, the Classic, a lot of different things. If our guys keep their wits about themselves and go about it each day, we’ll find our way.
“It’s tough. The expectations – I hear people talking about us and what we are – they think we’re a shoo-in. This is a tough, tough league to win in. We need to be ready for all sorts of situations and hopefully we’ll handle it.”
Photos by Seth Harrison/The Journal News/LoHud.com.