NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Members of the New York Rangers celebrate after a goal by teammate Derek Stepan #57 against the Detroit Red Wings in the third period during a preseason game at Madison Square Garden on September 29 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
The preseason is over and the New York Rangers will now turn their focus to Saturday night's season opener against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena. While the players and staff prepare, the fans will anxiously wait out what will seem like the longest five days of the year. We here at Blueshirt Banter will do our best to keep you entertained over the next week until the regular season gets underway. Today we look back at the preseason as a whole, and reflect on what we've learned about the club by watching them play six games against three skilled, but very different type teams.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the Rangers' ability to capitalize on their chances. It is not often that I can say that, so obviously this is something to get excited about, even if it was only the preseason. In 2009-10, the team was not opportunistic at all, and that would later hurt them in long-run due to a series of unfortunate events that we are all aware of by now. The Blueshirts scored 4 or more goals in each exhibition contest they played in, which resulted in more wins than if they were to only score two or so.
The Rangers have buried rebounds, they are making the opposition pay for their mistakes, odd-man rushes are being converted to goals and they have been tremendous on the powerplay. Those are all scenarios that present opportunities for goals, and for the most part, New York has cashed in on many of them. This, in return, makes head coach John Tortorella's offensive-minded system much more efficient. The coach wants constant pressure and he wants to be able to take chances when possible. When you have the lead because of a high conversion rate, both of those tasks automatically become easier to execute.
As a general rule, more scoring equals more wins. If this scoring rate can continue into the regular season, there is no doubt in my mind that our Rangers are a playoff team. Especially since the goals are not coming from just Marian Gaborik or Alexander Frolov. All four lines have been contributing, which makes it very hard for the opposition to match-up lines. Just think about it: if all four lines are applying similar pressure and finding the back of the net, how do you know which trio to put your best defensive pair out against? Or which line do you put your top forwards out against? My point is four lines of offense will give the Rangers an instant advantage over their opponent.
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Another thing I have noticed is that goaltending is much better. I realize Henrik Lundqvist is already an elite netminder and cannot get much better than he already is, but what makes goaltending better for the team as a whole is the addition of Martin Biron. The former Flyer and Islander had a rough night on Saturday, but even so only about three of the goals were actually his fault. Ignoring that tilt, his performance in the preseason was astounding. Biron looks very confident in goal, which is something that cannot be said of him last year when he played on Long Island. Lundqvist will actually be able to take a breather every now and then this season because Torts has a reliable back-up to turn to. This is going to help the team out a lot, as long as Biron can continue to play very well.
While the goalies have been great, the defense did not impress me much. I think every defender on the club had at least one bad game, some more than that. Too many times I saw the opponent easily walk into the slot. Too many times I saw odd-man rushes against. I am just hoping that was preseason rust being shaken off, because the Ranger blue-line needs to do some heavy tightening up before Saturday. But again, I think we all realize that there will be mistakes made with such a young core on D this season, and that is something we will have to learn to tolerate. But for the sake of the goaltenders, please limit the legitimate scoring chances.
Bringing in a load of youth this season has made the team much quicker and much more exciting to watch. Everything they do seems like it is a step or two faster than last season. The forwards are getting to loose pucks within a second on the forecheck, which speeds up the cycle in the offensive zone. Passing is much sharper and quicker and has opened up different types of scoring chances. Teams like the Detroit Red Wings are so successful because they can tear apart the opposition with a quick series of passes. The Rangers have shown shades of that during the preseason.
Lastly, and maybe the most obvious point of them all, the Blueshirts are so much tougher than they were a year ago. Their physical play has been raised several notches and has been a weapon of intimidation on the ice. Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Sean Avery, Derek Boogaard, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust are among the forwards that have been relentless when it comes to throwing around the body. Marc Staal, Mike Sauer, Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto have all been slamming players on defense. Also, no one touches our goalies anymore. Anyone who has even tapped Lundqvist after the whistle has been thrown to the ground within seconds. They do not put up with that nonsense anymore, just as GM Glen Sather promised us during the offseason.
Overall, there are more positives to pull out of the preseason than negatives. This is all great and definitely makes the team better than they were in 2009-10, but the concern now is consistency. We want to see all of these pluses factoring in throughout the ENTIRE season. It should not all come to an end once November rolls around, which is the usual trend for the Rangers. It should be non-stop all the way through April, which will prevent New York from having to fight for their lives in game 82 of the season.