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Prucha looks to break loose

Tuesday, 09.30.2008 / 4:58 PM / NHL Premiere

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

BERN, Switzerland — Petr Prucha was credited with a goal and six shots in the New York Rangers' 8-1 win over SC Bern on Tuesday, but he still thinks he's a bit snake-bitten in the scoring department.

"I don't know what is going on," said Prucha, who on Saturday will play his first game in his native Czech Republic since leaving for the NHL in 2005. "I'm shooting the puck. I think today I had one or two pretty good shots and I thought it was going in, but it hit something or somebody. I just can't score."

He finally did Tuesday, getting his first goal of the preseason, but with fellow Czechs Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka no longer with the Rangers, Prucha knows the team is banking on him to return to his 30-goal form he showed in his rookie season of 2005-06.

Prucha had 22 goals in his sophomore season, but only seven in 62 games in 2007-08, when coach Tom Renney would at times hold him out as a healthy scratch, especially toward the end of the season, and also played him in the bottom six instead of the top.

"We sure think he can be a big contributor from an offensive standpoint, but I think he has been a little bit puck-struck this year," assistant coach Mike Pelino said. "It's just not going in for him. I think it's one of those things that as soon as he starts scoring he's not going to stop. He just has to get himself into a situation where he's going to score and force us to keep putting him out there."

Prucha was in prime position a lot on Tuesday when he was playing on the top line with Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Markus Naslund, who is expected to play left wing on that line in Prague when the Rangers open the regular season against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008, was a healthy scratch.

The Rangers are hoping Prucha scores enough to play on one of their top two lines, but he'll likely have to beat out Nigel Dawes to get there. Dawes was also a healthy scratch Tuesday.

"I just hope that I'm saving it for the regular season because it's not possible to keep such bad luck," Prucha said, laughing at his misfortune now. "I feel good. I feel stronger than last year. I'm in good shape, but I just can't get it in."

Renney isn't about to give up on the 26-year-old Czech.

"History suggests he can bury the puck," Renney said. "Petr Prucha has been a huge contributor to our team and he was last year. He's a big part of the New York Rangers, and we expect he will be moving forward."

Even if he's not scoring, the one thing the Rangers know they'll always get from Prucha is a solid work ethic. He's not afraid of the high-traffic areas, and Pelino said he plays way above his rather diminutive 6-foot, 175-pound frame.

"He's a great competitor," Pelino said. "Right now he's pressing a little and that's one reason why they aren't going in as easily for him. But we sure think if he has a couple of good scoring opportunities, he'll start to capitalize and he's really going to explode in that department."

There may be no better place for Prucha to do it than in Prague. He is from nearby Chrudim — about 90 minutes east of Prague, one of the cities hosting the 2008 Bridgestone NHL Premiere.

Prucha will be playing in front of fans who know his name and speak his language. If he scores a goal early against the Lightning, he may wind up having a memorable weekend in his homeland — and that could set him off on a special season.

"He comes to work every day and he works hard. He never complains, never says anything. We're going to need him, there's no doubt about it. And, he's right there. His confidence is there. It's just a matter of him putting it in."
-- Rangers Scott Gomez

"Petr is one of the greatest teammates you can ever play with," Rangers center Scott Gomez said. "He comes to work every day and he works hard. He never complains, never says anything. We're going to need him, there's no doubt about it. And, he's right there. His confidence is there. It's just a matter of him putting it in."

Prucha and the Rangers can only hope that happens on a regular basis soon enough.
"I expect it from myself," Prucha said. "That's what I'm not doing right now, so I can't be satisfied just yet."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.



Quote of the Day

I got a chance to play a thousand games and that's pretty special to me. To get a thousand [points], it's a great accomplishment. I'm not going to hide my feelings, I'm proud of that. To do it on a win, do it on a goal, I think it makes it special.

— New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis after scoring his 1000th NHL point on Friday
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