Rangers look to rake up falling Leafs tonight
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Renney, Players on Tonight's Game
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
While the Rangers were winning their first five games of the season, Tom Renney was the first to point out that even though his club had a perfect record, it was not playing perfect hockey.
|Alternate captain Markus Naslund has a history of success against Toronto with 12 goals in his last 13 games vs. the Leafs.
However, now that the winning streak has been snapped with a 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night, the Rangers head coach is not panicking or sounding any alarms, either, as the Blueshirts prepare to host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s not like we are going to have to reinvent the wheel,” said Renney. “It’s just about making sure that we outwork our opponent and play with the passion and desire to get the little things done.”
Renney had been pointing out flaws in the Rangers game to his players during the winning streak, though many of those flaws were covered up by a superior collective work ethic by the team, and the fact that the Blueshirts were doing many more good things than bad. As a result, the Rangers were piling up victories one after another.
Wednesday’s match was the first this season in which it seemed that the opposition was more committed to executing its game plan, and as a result it looked as though the Sabres were outworking the Rangers. In fact, so committed to its defensive game was Buffalo, that the Rangers managed only nine shots on goal in the first two periods of action.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said alternate captain Scott Gomez, who scored the Rangers lone goal Wednesday. “We know we made mistakes. And we know we can’t have six shots, or whatever it was, halfway through the game and expect to win in this league. This is a wake-up call. So we’ll come back (Friday) and work harder.”
Now that his club has lost its first game of the 2008-09 season, Renney seemed more intent heading into tonight’s match to emphasize the positives surrounding his first-place club, as opposed to what went wrong on Wednesday.
“We have a great group here,” Renney said of his team. “They are going to want to do better, obviously, but they do need to be emotionally engaged and passionate about playing.”
One question Renney does face is the fate of his top line, which has consisted of veterans Markus Naslund, Chris Drury
, and Gomez. While the Rangers have received excellent, and, in some cases, surprising, production from the other three forward lines, the top unit has struggled since a strong start in the first two games of the season played in Prague.
Naslund, 1-3-4 on the season, has recorded only two assists and three shots on goal in the past four games. Drury has recorded his only point of the campaign, an assist, over the past four games, while managing 10 shots in that span. And Gomez, 2-3-5 so far in 2008-09, has a goal and an assist with `0 shots on goal since the club’s return from Europe.
For the first time this season, Renney broke up his top line in the third period of Wednesday’s loss to the Sabres. Petr Prucha, who showed a lot of jump earlier in the match while playing on the third line, replaced Naslund on left wing as the head coach searched for a way to not only get his top unit going, but as a way to wake up his lethargic team.
“I was just trying to shake things up there in the third period,” said Renney.
As for the slow start offensively for his line, Gomez is typically not overly worried just yet.
“No excuses. I just think we are trying to do too much out there, and me, personally, I am probably hurting those guys by trying too hard,” stated Gomez. “But it’s early, and we’ve all been through this before.”
Whether or not Renney keeps that line intact this evening is still in question, as the Rangers will be facing a Toronto club that has struggled defensively in its first three matches.
After a shocking 3-2 season-opening victory in Detroit against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Maple Leafs were drubbed 6-1 at home against the Montreal Canadiens and were 5-4 losers to the St. Louis Blues in a shootout on Monday. As a result, goaltender Vesa Toskala has an inflated 4.36 goals against average and a poor .860 save percentage to start the season.
Veterans like Mats Sundin and Bryan McCabe are no longer with the club, so the Maple Leafs are employing a younger lineup that has been prone to making more mistakes on the ice. 22-year-old winger Nikolai Kulemin, though, has starred in the early going for the Maple Leafs, notching the game-winning goal against Detroit, and recording another goal against St. Louis.
The most important newcomer to the Maple Leafs is head coach Ron Wilson, who came to Toronto after guiding the San Jose Sharks for the past five seasons. Wilson brings over 1,000 games worth of NHL coaching experience to the Maple Leafs, after also serving behind the benches in Anaheim and Washington for nine years.
Former Rangers winger Ryan Hollweg will not be in Toronto’s lineup tonight. Hollweg was suspended by the league for a dangerous boarding penalty on Monday, his second suspension already since arriving in Toronto. He also served a two-game ban during the preseason.
Facing a team that is still looking to create an identity, and one with such struggles on the defensive side of the puck, the Rangers are hopeful of returning to their winning ways this evening at MSG.
“It’s been a good start for us; but we now have to show that we can rebound from a loss, because during the season you will have hot streaks and then you will have a couple of weeks where you have to fight to find your game,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
. “We just have to realize what brought us here and what made us a winner.”
After facing off with the Maple Leafs tonight, the Rangers will fly out to Detroit for a Saturday night date with the Red Wings, in what will be another big early-season test for the Blueshirts.