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Sunday, October 5, 2008
Who are these Rangers? Drury, Gomez providing some answers

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Two games do not make a season, no matter how impressive you might be in winning them. But two games might just be enough to establish an identity. And as far as the New York Rangers are concerned, establishing a personality is as much about deconstructing the old as introducing the new.

"I think the main thing is, I think we kind of showed our identity, how we're going to be this year. In your face, four lines, the speed," said newly appointed associate captain Scott Gomez on Sunday after the new-look Rangers completed a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning by identical 2-1 scores.

It's commonplace to note such things, but if a team was ever flattered by losing two games 2-1, it was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Through the two games, the Rangers dominated time of possession and outshot the Lighting by a total of 80-40.

From late in the first period to midway through the second in Sunday's finale, the Rangers did not allow the Lightning a shot on goal for 11:34. It didn't matter what line came over the boards, they attacked with abandon. If not for Olaf Kolzig in the Tampa goal, it would have been a Prague plastering.

When Wade Redden jumped into the play to chip in the game-winner -- and his first goal as a Blueshirt -- off a nifty Gomez pass (does Gomez make any other kinds of passes?) on a New York power play, the Rangers were outshooting the Lightning 23-3.

"This weekend was a good learning experience," Gomez said. "People were down on us the way our preseason was. But hey, there was a lot of new faces, a lot of guys trying to make a name for themselves."

It wasn't so much that the Rangers were 1-5 before coming to Europe, but rather after dramatically overhauling their lineup in the offseason, it seemed they didn't have a clue about what kind of team they were going to be.

Even coach Tom Renney acknowledged the team's personality was still a work in progress and would continue to be in the early games of the regular season in North America. Whether it was symbolic or not, the naming of the new team leaders at a team dinner the night before the first game in Prague seemed to have a galvanizing effect.

Last season, Gomez and Chris Drury were brought in as complements to a lineup that already featured future Hall of Famers Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan and veteran scoring accomplice Martin Straka.

The ingredients never quite yielded the delicacy they promised. The team finished 25th in goals per game and 22nd on power plays.

The Rangers advanced to the second round of the playoffs, but were outmatched by the youthful Pittsburgh Penguins and dispatched in five games as preseason thoughts of a Stanley Cup championship seemed foolishly misplaced.

In the offseason, Straka returned to the Czech Republic (he was on hand for both games here this weekend), Jagr went to Russia and Shanahan is in limbo as a man without a team. In their place, Gomez and newcomer Markus Naslund were introduced by Renney as alternate captains, while, to no one's surprise, Drury was named captain.

"He talked about leadership and how important it is to winning teams and announced Scotty and Markus first and then said me," Drury told ESPN.com before Sunday's game. "You know, it was a thrill. A team I grew up rooting for and going to the Garden as a kid hoping to wear the jersey one day, and now a year later to be a captain, it's just such an honor. I was thrilled."

Chris Drury
Chris Drury was named the new captain of the Rangers during a team dinner Friday night in Prague.

In the absence of Jagr et al, the dynamic in the Rangers' dressing room is different. There is Gomez, all loose, gregarious and chatty, and Drury, quiet, soft-spoken, earnest. They are the yin and yang of this team now, almost perfect foils for each other and for the rest of the players on the team.

It was so in Buffalo, where Drury and Daniel Briere clicked as a unifying leadership force and guided the Sabres to back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007.

Redden played against both for years as a leader of the Ottawa Senators.

"You see it playing against them, just how smart they are, just real intelligent," Redden said after Sunday's win. "[No matter the situation], you want these guys out there. They really lead the way on and off the ice. They really did that in these two games."

Through the weekend, Gomez was in on three of the Rangers' four goals, recording one goal and two assists. Two of those points were on the power play, which clicked on both days, providing the winner Saturday and the tying score after the Rangers had fallen behind 1-0 Sunday.

He didn't make the score sheet other than for a minor penalty Saturday, but we'll give you one guess who was screening Tampa netminder Olaf Kolzig on Redden's winner on Sunday: Drury.

The new captain also led all players with eight shots Sunday.

Does he expect the job of being captain to be any different on the big stage in New York than in Buffalo?

"I think if you sit back and say, 'Oh, it's the Rangers; I've got to do this, I've got to do that,' then I'll get myself in trouble. I'm just going to be myself," Drury said. "That was good enough to get me here and it was good enough for Tom to give me the C here.

"Everyone keeps asking me about leadership on this team and where it's going to come from. And I look up and down our lineup, and I see it everywhere. I see it on every line; I see it all over our D. I see it in both guys in net," Drury added. "So, pretty fortunate to be on such a team with such great leaders."

He has heard it before, and the more success the Rangers have, the more he'll hear it as the season progresses -- now this is his team, or, now this is his and Gomez's team.

"I don't really get into that," Drury said. "I don't wake up thinking that, get on the ice thinking that. It's all our team, every single guy here, everyone on the staff, the coaches, Glen [Sather], we're all in this together.

"Outside people can figure out whose team they want to call it; but for me, being inside, we all have a piece of it, we're all in charge of making this right."

As the rest of the NHL gets ready to play catch-up on their European-visiting brethren, it appears that whoever has ownership on this Rangers squad, the team is in good hands.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.