Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Rangers Hope to Regroup over Extended Break

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Rangers Hope to Regroup over Extended Break

Article excerpt

Presumed rock bottom has been a trampoline so far for the Rangers, so, rather than being a brief breakdown in their game, there's been little respite from the deficiencies and frustrations of bad hockey.

Their latest hope is that the 3-2 overtime win over the Ducks on Tuesday, coupled with the mental and physical relaxation of an extended Christmas break, will see them resume their season on Monday at Nashville looking much more like the team they've been their first two seasons under coach Alain Vigneault than the 4-9-2 mess they were the past month.

Gloom and doom aside, the Rangers, thanks to their 14-2-2 start, are in strong position: second in the Metropolitan Division, albeit eight points behind the surging Capitals, who embarrassed the host Rangers, 7-3, on Dec. 20. The Rangers' 44 points would put them in first place in two of the NHL's other three divisions.

But with 46 games remaining - just a little more than half their season - here are some of the (early) New Year's resolutions the Rangers must check off to be considered one of the league's true Stanley Cup contenders:

* A return to more consistent form by Henrik Lundqvist, who made 17 saves against the Ducks after being pulled in two of his previous four starts and allowing four or more goals in four of his previous five.

* Consistent offensive production from Rick Nash and, almost as importantly, a return to his normally solid defensive play.

* Chris Kreider and, perhaps even more so, Kevin Hayes, repaying Vigneault's seemingly infinite trust and faith in their games.

* The "big three" defensive core of captain Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi - presumably ready to return from his right knee issue that's kept him out of the last five games - playing to past form.

All three had their off-season workout routines altered by injuries, but that's no longer an excuse for their downright poor defensive play at times. McDonagh has been the best of the three, but the slippage in the play from the two other veterans has been, quite often, shocking. …

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