by Matt Pennino
Finally the nine-game preseason grind is over. Many good and bad things came away from these games, and a few need to get addressed immediately.
First, let’s start with the bad. The penalty-kill has been god-awful. On average the Rangers were allowing two to three power play goals against. That absolutely has to change! No matter how much talent you have, if your penalty-kill continues to operate at about 60-70% you can bet on not making the playoffs for the sixth straight season; which would set a new franchise record.
Secondly, this team has shown lack of discipline at every end of the ice. Bad penalties at bad times killed them. As soon as the Rangers had a power play, then someone would get called for tripping or a lame hooking penalty. These always hurt momentum and if this doesn’t stop, along with their inability to kill them off will only lead to disaster. Smarten up!
Pavel Bure’s injury doesn’t help things either but the fact that he could be ready for opening night is great news and my prayers were answered when it wasn’t an ACL or MCL tear. If it was he could’ve missed the majority of the season, which would sink the morale of every New York Rangers fan. As John Davidson stated on a broadcast on MSG Network: it’s good to win your preseason games, but coming away without any injuries is key. Even though Bure will miss limited playing time, I still wish he could’ve played the remainder of the preseason games. Don’t we all.
All nine games in the schedule featured something that all Rangers fans are used to: bad defense. Some games they were able to keep the shots against down but most of the games they were doing the exact same things as in previous seasons. Bad turnovers and lazy play haunted them every night. How many times last year and even in the preseason did you see the Rangers score a goal, only to watch as their opponents replied back a minute later? The first shift after a goal is important. If you give up two goals in a minute or so then the momentum is in the palm of the antagonists. Trottier will need to implant some sort of system and fast. Not only does the system have to be good but also the execution has to be there. You can have a damn good system but if nobody is replying to it then you’re going to have defense like the Rangers. Bad news.
The final thought in the “bad category” is the power play. Come to think of it, I should’ve just said the special teams in general were disastrous but here we go. In the final game of the schedule the Rangers scored two goals when they could’ve easily had four or five. The Rangers absolutely need to capitalize on these man advantages. If their power play can operate at about 15-20% and their penalty kill can be a respectable 80-85% range, then they can make the playoffs.
Now we can move on to the good news. Goaltending. Throughout the entire preseason the Rangers had exceptional goaltending from all who attended camp. Mike Richter, Dan Blackburn, Johan Holmqvist and Jason Labarbera all gave the Rangers a chance of winning games. There was no doubt in my mind which two goalies were going to be their at the end, but it was encouraging to see all of them step up just in case either Richter or Blackburn get injured. God forbid.
The biggest story of the preseason no doubt, was the outstanding play of first round pick Jamie Lundmark. He led the team in scoring with six goals and two assists in eight games. Two of the goals were game-winners and his performance in clutch situations was great to see. Not only did he show his scoring prowess but also displayed his team spirit. He stuck up for teammate Mikael Samuelsson and wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with some heavyweights. This guy is a lock to finally crack the Rangers’ lineup.
Last thought: The Rangers showed more grit and dropped the gloves more than they usually do in an entire regular season. Whether that was just to fight for a roster spot (no pun intended) then that’s great but if this carries over into the regular season then a lot of teams won’t like playing the Rangers on a nightly basis. The Broadway Bullies anyone?
That concludes my preseason report. I am looking forward to October 9th when the puck drops for real against the Hurricanes. Good night, good hockey.