Pre-season is now officially over...the
next game is for real, as the New York Rangers travel to Carolina to face
the Hurricanes this Friday night.
The Rangers went 4-4-1 in their nine games,
but only now is the team starting to show some cohesion. Eric
Lindros initially looked tentative after his long layoff but has shown the
Eric of old against the Bruins in returning to his smashing crashing old
self. Meanwhile down in Philly the other half of the deal has looked
good on a Flyers team that has a legitimate crack at the cup.
But enough about former Rangers, let's
instead focus on the present. Perhaps the biggest question mark
going into camp was whether Mike Richter could return from a second
serious knee injury and whether one of the young goalies could step up to
fill the vacant backup role.
It appeared going into last Friday's waiver
draft that GM Glen Sather had his eyes set on Chris Osgood after producing
a protected list that included one Bryce Wandler (recently sent down to
the Checkers). The Detroit net-minder would not last beyond the
first pick however, and the Rangers will now go with what they have
barring any late minute trades.
Fortunately it looks like Richter is
healthy enough to open the season. Showing a little rust, #35
finished the pre-season with an impressive .962 save percentage an a
miserly 1.01 goals against average. In total Richter saw a little
under two game's worth of action and it will probably take a few regular
season games before he's back to his top form.
All three prospective backups started the
pre-season well, but a poor game against the Devils sent Holmqvist back to
Hartford. Blackburn has looked very good in some tough games, though
his age and an average game against the Bruins may have him going back to
juniors. Skudra, who has a style all his own, may become the
de-facto choice after a competent if not spectacular series of games.
On the blueline things have become even
more crowded than before. The late signing of Bryan Berard to a
contract will seemingly send Smrek back to the minors. Ron Low
seemed a little unsure of Van Impe's status after an unimpressive camp so
there may still be room for the young Slovak. Karpa and Ulanov have
provided some much needed muscle, though Karpa will need to avoid the bad
penalties if he is to avoid sitting on the sideline when Kloucek returns.
Malakhov too successfully navigated the
pre-season and has shown some good offensive skills, particularly paired
with Leetch on the Power Play. The experiment of Leetch and Malakhov
together as a defensive pair will hopefully die a sudden
Perhaps the best news is the depth the
Rangers now have on defense. Mottau returned to Hartford with Martin
Richter who had a good camp and looks like a promising option later this
year or next. Filip Novak admitted he was trying to hard in a
disappointing camp, but will be back next year to prove this was just an aberration.
Dale Purinton looks to start the year as the seventh defenseman while
veteran Sylvain Lefebvre passed through waivers and may have played his
last game as a Ranger.
Sean Gagnon played one game and looked
comfortable and would serve as a veteran call-up should injuries once
again hit hard and Leetch...well he was just Leetch.
With the late signing of Petr Nedved, the
Rangers were saddled with an interesting problem...what to do at the
center position. Lindros and Messier had locked up spots and Mike
York was once again showing why he shouldn't be overlooked. Having
played left wing with the Penguins, Nedved seemed to be the obvious choice
to move...initially on the Lindros line.
It wouldn't be until the last game of the
pre-season however, before the experiment would pay off. After
playing with Lindros and then York, Nedved was finally paired with Mark
Messier and Radek Dvorak...a line which produced immediate results in the
form of a three goal game.
To make room for the shift it appears as if
Manny Malhotra will be shifted back to his natural center position, albeit
on the fourth line. The news is not all bad however, with the added
depth the Rangers now have, coach Ron Low is now talking of using four
Zdeno Ciger, who trailed only Radek Dvorak
in pre-season scoring, appears to have locked up the left wing spot on the
Lindros-Fleury line, while fellow new comer Andreas Johansson looks to be
paired with York and McCarthy.
Barrett Heisten who played the last game of
the pre-season with Malhotra and Grosek may just have done enough to win
the fourth line spot over McKenna and Scott.
Some of the other youngsters may see NHL
time soon too. Number one prospect Jamie Lundmark found himself
paired with rookies most of the pre-season but showed glimpses of his
talent. With Lindros and Messier in front of him, it's not out of
the question that he'll be called up. Mikael Samuelsson who
impressed Glen Sather prior to camp showed some physical play which could
see him brought up after some time with John Paddock and the Wolfpack.
To round out the roster it appears the
Rangers will go with McKenna, Purinton and one of Scott or Smrek.
With both players being able to be sent down without clearing waivers it
is unclear at this point who will be chosen.
To be sure the Rangers still need to
improve their defense and puck control if they hope to challenge for a
playoff spot this year, but going into Friday's game there is some reason
for optimism, if for no other reason than we get to see our beloved
blueshirts back on the ice.