Does anyone miss Jaromir Jagr or Sean Avery yet? Rangers’ fans have to be ecstatic with what they’ve seen thus far in the 2008-09 season. A perfect 5-0-0 record has put them way out in front of the Eastern Conference so early in the season and it is refreshing to see just how well they are performing in all aspects of the game.
The season started very early for the Blueshirts with two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Prague and in both affairs, they came away with 2-1 victories that should have been much easier. It looked like the squad was picking up right where they left off last season by outshooting their opponents by wide margins, but not being able to put the puck in the net. But four points were on the balance sheet, and it was way to early to analyze the results.
With so many roster changes, it was obvious that time was needed to develop some chemistry. But right from the outset, it was clear that the additions of new assistant captain Markus Naslund and defender Wade Redden were good moves.
After coming back to the states, it was unclear just how the team would react to the long trip and the upcoming schedule of six games in nine nights. But so far, this team isn’t showing signs of fatigue and that can be attributed to the fact that the newest version on Broadway is the sixth youngest club in the NHL. The organization has finally decided to stress youth over the abundance of overpaid veterans, usually on the downside of their careers.
A solid victory over the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday was immediately followed the next night with another strong effort in Philadelphia, where, by the way, they have dominated the Flyers recently. Two days later, they returned home to spank the Devils and Henrik Lundqvist put another loss in Martin Brodeur’s column. He’s done that an awful lot in the past couple of seasons.
The most surprising of all in the first five games has been the superb play of the Brandon Dubinsky-Aaron Voros-Nikolai Zherdev line, especially Aaron Voros. He has set up camp in the crease and his play is reminiscent of former agitator Sean Avery, but without all the distractions and sense of impending trouble on the horizon. His toughness and ability to direct the puck during the power play has been exceptional.
The penalty killing unit has been outstanding as well, having yet to be beaten in 21 attempts. With great goaltending, including another nice game by Stephen Valiquette in Philly, the Rangers are demonstrating what it takes to win consistenly at such a high level.
Accolades go to Blair Betts and Marc Staal as well; their efforts thus far have not gone unnoticed. It may not show up on the score sheet, but management is well aware of how they’re playing. In addition to Staal, Paul Mara, Dan Girardi, and Michal Rozsival have all contributed to the great defensive start.
It may be nitpicking considering their record, but not everybody is firing on all cylinders initially. Scott Gomez has looked a little off to date and Chris Drury needs to step it up; both are currently at -1. That’s not acceptable when they have outscored their opponents 16-8 in the five games. Expect more goals from Naslund as he acclimates to his new surroundings.
Tonight, the Rangers are shooting for the best start in team history when the Buffalo Sabres come to town.