Eric Lindros 1

Week 1 Wrap-up

by Jim Samuels

A win is a win, that’s what they say in sports circles these days. The New York Rangers 76th season got underway this past weekend and two games into the 82 game marathon that is the NHL’s regular season, the Blueshirts are Even Steven after splitting a pair of games against eastern conference foes. 

After an underwhelming beginning to the Rangers season, an out of sync, chaotic 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Friday night the Blueshirts returned home for what they knew would be an impromptu pre-game ceremony filled with emotion and done like only the Garden can. Firefighters, police officers and EMS workers alike received their due prior to dropping the puck on the Rangers home opener. It was an emotional 20 minute ceremony that was not for the faint of heart. One of the Rangers biggest downfalls during their recent four year run of futility has been their inability to win on home ice. Since the 1997-98 season the Blueshirts are just 63-77-22-2 on Garden ice, a whopping 14 games under .500 in that span. This is a trend that must at least reverse itself if the fate of this years squad is to be any different than the previous four. Getting off on the right foot in the home opener is just what the doctor ordered for this feeling their way bunch. 

Many a personal comeback was staged wearing the red, white and blue this past weekend, which concluded with a 5-4 come from behind OT win against a Buffalo Sabres team that lost just four times in it’s last 13 visit’s to the Worlds Most Famous Arena. Overall, the first two matches contained a little bit of everything for the Blueshirts; including more sloppy defensive play, which, unfortunately, has become a Ranger trademark under head coach Ron Low. Once again the defensive zone coverage was abysmal as opposing forwards were allowed to set up camp in front of a shaky MIKE RICHTER who allowed a total of 7 goals in the two weekend matches. 

Here’s a look at some individual performances over the first pair of games. 

ERIC LINDROS asserted himself during Sunday night’s home opener after a seemingly tentative debut Friday in Carolina. The Big Train collected his first goal as a Ranger when he opened the scoring on Sunday and was dominant on face-off’s in his Garden debut. 

Captain MARK MESSIER who scored the team’s first goal of the season in the opener had an otherwise uneventful weekend and unlike last year wasn’t needed to kill penalties or take every important defensive zone draw. 

Center PETR NEDVED had a solid weekend collecting three points over the two matches including the assist on Sunday’s OT game winner. 

RADEK DVORAK once again showed outstanding speed pulling away from defenders en route to a breakaway goal that briefly gave the Rangers a 4-3 third period lead in Sunday’s victory. The fleet-footed Czech seemingly picked up where he left off last year, creating several scoring chances during the first two games. 

ZDENO CIGER was solid in his Rangers debut and seemed to fit well with Nedved and MICHAL GROSEK who picked up his first goal of the season crashing the net against the Sabres on Sunday. Grosek must bring a physical presence to that unit and be more aggressive on the forecheck than he has been during his brief stint with the Rangers if he is to see an increased role with the club this season. 

Natural centerman MANNY MALHOTRA was moved back to the wing with Messier and Dvorak and played brilliantly, setting up Dvorak’s third period marker against the Sabres. Malhotra is obviously a huge asset on the wing and seems to play with confidence when teamed with the Captain. 

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise over the first two games was the play of winger ANDREAS JOHANSSON. The 26 year-old Swede brings speed and a tenacious forecheck to the club and is an outstanding penalty killer. Johansson, who drew a penalty driving to the net in Sunday’s victory, also chipped in offensively, scoring a huge goal as time expired in the second period knotting the game at three. 

Right winger THEO FLEURY was once again guilty of taking undisciplined penalties and was a minus-2, in what was an otherwise quiet weekend for the spunky winger. 

Fourth line center MIKE YORK seemed to struggle adapting to his new role and was also a minus-2 over the first two matches. The diminutive center needs to find his game in a hurry or he could see his ice time cut even further given the Rangers depth at center ice. 

Enforcer SANDY MCCARTHY sparked the team on Sunday with a scrap at the end of the second period that seemed to wake the Rangers up they had fallen into a 3-1 hole. 

Rookie BARRETT HEISTEN had an uneventful weekend and didn’t see much icetime in the third period of Sunday’s win. On the defensive side of things, BRIAN LEETCH struggled at times in his own zone but was able to jump into the play, taking a pass from Petr Nedved to beat Buffalo goalie Bob Essensa for the OT winner on Sunday. 

Leetch’s partner BRYAN BERARD looked like a guy that hadn’t played in 16 months after two outstanding pre-season appearances. Berard seemed tentative both steeping up to keep the puck in at the opposing blueline as well as in front of his own net. 

Free agent signee IGOR ULANOV looked Marty McSorely-esque in his Ranger debut. The hard hitting Russian looked unsure of himself and made several ill-advised passes during Friday night’s loss to the Hurricanes. 

DAVE KARPA had a solid weekend showing off his reputation as a tough stay at home defensemen and keeping his game simple. 

VLADMIR MALAKHOV was also solid and should fit in well as a third pair defensemen once TOMAS KLOUCEK returns from injury. 

Second year man PETER SMREK struggled in Friday’s opener and was a healthy scratch in favor of tough guy DALE PURINTON for Sunday’s Garden match. Purinton played well but once again put the Rangers down a man with an undisciplined penalty. 

Goaltender MIKE RICHTER was very ordinary allowing 7 goals on 56 shots over the first two games. Two of those goals however bounced in off of his own defensemen, one off of Karpa on Friday and the other off Malakhov Sunday. Richter showed his rust at times leaving long, juicy rebounds but seemed to recover quickly.

A LOOK AHEAD: The Rangers are at home to face Jaromir Jagr and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, then travel north of the border to face the Ottawa on Saturday and the Canadiens in Montreal on Monday.

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