by Mark Owens
The Rangers have looked completely flat in two of their four preseason games. The Flyers shut them out Saturday (5-0), and the Red Wings came within two minutes of shutting them out last night (6-1). Should Ranger fans be concerned?
The first thing to remember is that this is the preseason. The main purpose of the preseason – especially this team with new players at key positions – is player evaluation and selection, not winning. If you win during this process, great. If you lose, well, at least you gave some prospects and players on the bubble a chance to prove their worth.
The Rangers played last night’s game without eight regulars who will probably be on the opening-night roster, including Rozsival, Shanahan, Avery, Drury, and Callahan. However, the first line of Straka-Gomez-Jagr did play and produced just one meaningless goal.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, dressed all of their regulars with the exception of Dan Cleary, who has averaged seven goals a season in his career. It would have been interesting to see how the Rangers’ ‘varsity’ performed against the Wings, a perennial Stanley Cup contender. The teams do not meet during the regular season.
So, what should Ranger fans expect once the season starts? Should they expect the cohesive, desperate team that won 75% of its games down the stretch, swept the Thrashers and made the Sabres sweat? Not out of the gate. Most likely, the Rangers will get off to a rough start as the team tries to build chemistry and cohesion. Remember, the only line intact from last year is the fourth line of Hollweg, Betts and Orr. Lines one, two and three will have new centers. There will also be at least two or three rookies on the team (Girardi, Callahan, Staal, Dubinsky, etc.).
The key to this season will be building on last year’s success, improving as the season progresses, and hitting their stride after the all-star break, and mainly when the ‘second season’ begins in April.
What is the worst scenario? The worst scenario would be efforts and results similar to what we’ve seen in the two preseason losses: Terrible defense, sloppy passing and puck control, shoddy goaltending, and disinterested play all around.
Why would this happen? There are many reasons: Nylander’s departure, lack of chemistry, injuries to key players, young players not ready (or able) to carry the load, and – of course – believing all of the hype that’s been generated since April instead of proving it on the ice every night.
The off-season moves – and the roster decisions to come – are made with one goal in mind: Which combination of players gives us the best chance to make a successful run at the Cup?