10/28/2008 12:18 PM ET
The anatomy of a hot start
Nik's game has zip; Renney has control of the team
By Jon Lane / Special to SNY.tv
Nikolai Zherdev has delivered for the Rangers to date, showing the skills that made him the 4th overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. (AP)

The Rangers are 9-2-1 and boast the NHL's best record with 19 points and a franchise record for their most points through 12 games to start a season.

Those 12 games are more than anyone else has played, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom the Rangers commenced the 2008-09 campaign in Prague. There is also a long way to go and this team will endure adversity because that's the nature of sports. Tom Renney is too smart to rest on his laurels and ride a wave of contentment. Despite the Rangers' shiny record, we haven't seen them play a full 60 minutes of hockey. Not once.

"You can't play 20, 30, 40 minutes. It's got to be 60 minutes," Renney said. "What we've been able to show ourselves is we have the resiliency to bounce back. We do have the ability to get back into games and win them."

And that's the mark of a good team, finding ways to win when you're not playing your 'A' game, despite lapses in judgment (or at times effort) and especially when dealing with a hot opposing goaltender. The Rangers earned merit points for their comeback win over the Penguins Saturday night in a shootout after being down 2-0. The puck was in their own end with about 20 seconds left in the game, but Dan Girardi dug it out of the corner and found Brandon Dubinsky, who started a rush climaxed by Nikolai Zherdev's stunning goal with 8.1 seconds left that earned the Rangers a point.

Monday's 4-2 win over the Islanders is another example. Both of Chris Drury's goals came off bad bounces, the first which deflected off goalie Joey McDonald's back 56 seconds into the game after he misplayed a carom following two great saves. His second was a 45-foot slap shot on a 5-on-3 that redirected past McDonald.

Drury had no goals and three assists in his first 11 appearances this season, so he's not complaining. Neither is Renney.

"I don't care what it hit," Renney said.

What Renney cares about is resiliency, if only for the full 60 minutes. I questioned the Rangers' effort after a loss to Buffalo, their first of the season, but overall, they've found ways to overcome their weaknesses. Don't confuse them for serious Stanley Cup contenders (yet), but there are reasons to enjoy the Rangers' run to start the season.

Zherdev came to New York with a reputation of a dog, a bad teammate and a selfish malcontent. News flash: Zherdev stuck it to the Blue Jackets team who traded him with a goal and two assists Friday night while reveling in the fans' boos and catcalls. One night after snapping a four-game pointless streak, Zherdev snapped that wrister over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder.

There's been zip and polish to Zherdev's game. He has two goals and three assists in three games, and his 10 points trail Dubinsky and Scott Gomez for the team lead. He'll also be a free agent at the end of the season, which also may have something to do with it.

Henrik Lundqvist is 7-2-1 with a 1.99 GAA. His backup, Stephen Valiquette, is 2-0-0, 1.44. Elite goaltending has been the backbone of the Rangers' success, writes Larry Brooks.

Dubinsky was benched for a couple of shifts Monday night thanks to sloppy penalties. For this and many reasons, Renney has his stamp on the Rangers, writes Joe McDonald.

Jon Lane can be reached at jon.lane@mlb.com.
Write a Comment! Post a Comment