The New York Rangers didn't exactly get off to a hot start to the season. In fact, after all the expectations surrounding the team after the organization won the hand of prized free agent Brad Richards, the start couldn't have been much worse.
Some attributed the slow start to the travel, others to the team not having enough time to gel with one another. Jim Schoenfeld, assistant general manager and assistant coach of the New York Rangers, was impressed with the way the Rangers handled all the adversity the start of the season provided.
"I think there was the physical effect. We had the trip to Europe and we came home for one game on the Island, and then we left for an 11 or 12 day trip out West. I think each trip on it's own would have been fine, but when you combine the two of them our guys really pulled together and kind of gutted it out to get some wins," he said.
"And coming back home, the first few game we suffered the effects that every team suffers after a West Coast swing," he added. "It's a tough one. The emotional boost of being in Madison Square Garden pushed us through the first period then we kind of ran out of juice. But then you could see from that point on that with each passing period we we're starting to play towards the top of our game. And although we weren't at the top of our game yet, we were playing a lot better and a lot stronger and certianly more cultured to a full 60 minutes."
The Rangers are a much different team than they were at the start of the season. After reeling off a six-game winning streak (which they will try to extend to seven games Tuesday against the New York Islanders) the Rangers are an impressive 9-3-3 and are starting to hit their stride as a hockey club.
Schoenfeld attributes the resurgence to a complete team effort.
"I really think it's been different people at different times," he said. "When we were in Europe our goaltending was very good through those first two games, where we got a point in each one. Then we came home and we played the one game on the Island and out West we had some lapses but out goaltending was there for us and it was strong. And then on different nights, bit by bit, it was different players."
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Those players have come from both sides of the puck, but the defense was a major concern due to the absence of Marc Staal, and everyone stepped up to fill the gap.
"Dan Girardi was just tremendous, he didn't take a shift off, Schoenfeld said. "With the loss of Marc Staal, Girardi matched up with Ryan McDonagh and they did a tremendous job. Michael Sauer was out too and there was lot of ice time logged by Girardi and McDonagh because of it, and they did great."
Another defenseman who stepped up was Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto, who was sent down to the AHL midway through last season, has seen a resurgence himself, something Schoenfeld has noticed.
"Del Zotto has found his game, and he's looking like he did his first year," he said. "He's making things happen with the puck and he's defending much, much better than we've ever seen him defend. There was one game where Sauer got tossed and Del Zotto played 27 minutes and they were 27 strong minutes."
Aside from the defense, Schoenfeld thinks it's been a little of everything from the rest of the team to help the Rangers gain the vital momentum on their winning streak.
"Marian Gaborik from the onset has had a strong year for us, and has scored some important and timely goals," he said. "Brad Richards scored a big goal against the Anaheim Ducks in Europe to get us a point. Ryan Callahan was Ryan Callahan, you know the type of game you're going to get from him. And most recently the line of Marian Gabroik, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov had been a big offensive force for us."
Schoenfeld specifically thought the Rangers' victory over the Winnipeg Jets on November 6th was a turning point in the season.
"When you're not at the top of your game everyone needs to get involved," he said. "I think the best example was against Winnipeg when we were holding onto a one-goal lead in the third period. They were coming at us, we were trying to hang on, and we had guys diving head first to block shots, scrambling, scratching and clawing to get the puck out of the zone. It wasn't pretty, but what it was was a team coming together to find a way to win. And as a coaching staff when we looked back at that game we were proud of them. You're not always going to win every game in a cakewalk, you're going to have to scratch and claw to get a win."
"That's really what it's been. It's not really been one big thing, it's been different guys on different nights," Schoenfeld said.
It might not be one big thing that's helping the Rangers find their game, but a lot of those little things are leading to big results.