After 11 games in 28 days spanning 15,336 miles and five countries, the Rangers stepped into the transformed Madison Square Garden Wednesday morning.
They were in awe of what they saw.
“Obviously everything is different. The whole area is a lot better, more modern,” Brad Richards said of the renovated Garden. As part of the reconstruction, a state-of-the-art locker room was built for the Rangers, who will walk past the Delta360 Club to the ice. New seating was installed in lower bowl.
The changes were a hit with the players. The only complaint came from Michael Del Zotto, who joked that the notoriously bad MSG ice “is still awful; they didn’t fix it.”
Assessments of the refurbished Garden aside, yesterday was a work day for the Rangers, who practiced for an hour in preparation for tonight’s home opener against Original Six-brethren Toronto. The Leafs have authored a 5-2-1 start to the season spearheaded by Phil Kessel. Kessel leads the league in goals (9) and points (15).
“It’s a great test for us. Once the puck drops, all this stuff goes away. We’re focusing on two points and a good Toronto team over there,” Brandon Prust said. “They’re playing well right now and it’s going to be a good test for us.
“Young and fast and they work hard. They just go, go, go.”
Assuredly, the coaching staff will emphasize limiting Toronto’s puck-possession time and eliminating second-chance shots. Even though Tortorella preaches team defense, much of the onus will be on the defense corps, which may receive a major boost as Michael Sauer indicated that he could play. He added Sauer would allow Tortorella to be able to skate almost a full complement of his envisioned back end, with the notable exception of Marc Staal.
While solid defensively, the Rangers are struggling offensively, despite Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards leading the team with four goals and five points, respectively. The Rangers’ two goals per game average is tied with Nashville, New Jersey, the Islanders and Minnesota as second worst in the league, while the power play is the third worst in the NHL.
Midway through the third period of the Rangers’ 2-1 win in Winnipeg Monday night, Ryan Callahan’s cross ice pass for Ruslan Fedotenko ricocheted off Ondrej Pavelec’s stick and Zach Bogosian’s skate into the goal. It turned out to be the game-winning goal, the Rangers’ second power play goal of the game and third overall in 28 opportunities with the man advantage.
It was not Gretzky-to-Kurri, nor will it ever be compared to the great skill goals in the history of the game. Still, the Rangers aren’t about to apologize for it.
“We’ve been working on getting pucks to the net, taking some bad angle shots and not always worrying about making that perfect tic-tac-toe play with an empty net,” Del Zotto said. “I think that’s what we have to focus on, getting some of those greasy goals. The power play, we got two goals the last game, which is a good start and hopefully we can get that going and keep it consistent. I think we’re waiting for that one greasy goal.”
“It’s a crappy goal; it’s a lucky goal he scores, the winning goal,” Tortorella said of Callahan’s marker. “But that’s what happens when you start doing those small things, working on the other parts of your game. You get some good luck.”
Follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for coverage of all three local NHL teams.