GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Having just put together their most complete 60-minute effort -- Saturday's 5-2 win against the Leafs -- the Rangers are set to atone for one of their worst.
Less than a week ago, the team left Philadelphia after a 2-1 loss to the injury-decimated (and previously winless) Flyers. They'll get another crack at their Atlantic Division rivals Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
“We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did down there. They have a lot of talent up front and can score goals,” alternate captain Brad Richards said. “But, we’ve got to worry about ourselves. I think that’s the biggest thing. We’ve got to back it up.”
The premature sense of panic has started to recede as the Rangers have leveled out a poor start with a 2-3-0 record, but some kinks still remain as the Rangers try to make up some ground in the divisional standings.
Five games into the season, the Rangers are three points behind the leading New Jersey Devils, two behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and one behind the Islanders. Both New York and Philadelphia have four points apiece although the Rangers have played one fewer game.
“The next step is backing up those wins,” Richards said. ”You’ve got to start putting those together and that’s how you move up quicker in the standings.”
First thing’s first, the Rangers have to give reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist some help. Lundqvist is hardly to blame for his unsightly numbers -- an .893 save percentage and a 3.14 goals against average -- what with the play in front of him. Like they did Saturday, the Rangers must establish time in the offensive zone rather than spending large chunks of time in their own end, a common denominator in all three losses this season.
“If you want to be a top-five team in the league, you have to be consistent,” Lundqvist said. “You have to come back after a good game and win an even better game. You’re not gonna play great every night but you need to find a way to win games, be consistent that way. That’s how you’re gonna start coming back and put yourself in good position.
“I thought the other night was great, so hopefully we’ll continue to build from there,” he said.
The other area that must improve for the Rangers to live up to preseason projections is the team’s power play.
The Rangers enter Tuesday’s game 2-for-22 (9.1 percent) on the man-advantage. The unit’s early ineptitude was particularly glaring in the loss to the Flyers, in which they flubbed a vital 5-on-3 opportunity in the third period.
The team devoted the last portion of practice Monday to special teams, getting in reps as best they can in a compressed, whirlwind schedule that allows for little practice time.
"We had two back-to-backs and really one full practice since the season started, this is the second full practice probably. We feel like there’s some improvement and there’s a basis for what we want to do and now it’s just execution,” Richards said. “Hopefully with more reps, getting use to each other like we were today ... it will continue to grow.”
Coach John Tortorella, who would’ve cut practice short by 15 minutes had he not felt the need to address the power play, said he feels progress is being made.
“It’s obviously something we need to get a little consistency there, so we’re going to try to get some reps,” he said. “I don’t think it’s far away, we’re going to try to do that, just to get guys familiar with each other.”