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Hard work is key to turnaround, say Rangers

Saturday, 02.14.2009 / 9:00 AM / NHL on NBC Spotlight

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Coming into the season, the Rangers' strength was supposed to be their ability to put the puck in the net.

Even without Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, it was believed the additions of Nikolai Zherdev and Markus Naslund, the maturation of Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes, plus the second season in New York for Scott Gomez and Chris Drury would give the club a strong offensive presence.

And it worked early, as the Rangers opened the season with five-straight wins, during which they scored 16 goals.

Since then, however, the offense has been missing. Following Wednesday's 5-4 shootout win against Washington, they had scored just 131 goals, the fourth-fewest in the League, and their 2.38 goals per game was the second-lowest per-game average in the League. During the five-game losing that ended Wednesday, the Rangers had scored just five goals and been shut out twice.

The four goals the Rangers scored in regulation Wednesday night was the first time in seven games they had scored that many.

Naslund leads the team with 17 goals, but that's tied for the third-fewest goals for a team leader. He isn't the only culprit, though.

In nine games heading into Friday's meeting with Florida, the Rangers' expected offensive contributors had failed to deliver. Zherdev had 3 goals and 5 points, and Drury, Gomez, Naslund and Dubinsky had a combined 6 goals in that span.

"We've got guys in here that have scored before," Gomez told NHL.com. "We're just hitting a drought at the wrong time. We've just got to keep working harder. That's the key ingredient."

The hard work involves doing all the little things that might not look pretty but sometimes can result in goals.

"We just have to get as many pucks as we can to the net, get bodies to the net, get second and third efforts," forward Nigel Dawes told NHL.com. "A lot of times, goalies in this League are going to stop that first shot. It's the second and third efforts are where you're going to get your opportunities. I think we've been lacking that."

Ranger coach Tom Renney said he has seen the effort; he just needs to see it more consistently.

"What we've got to do is make sure we're providing ourselves the opportunities to put pucks to the net, get second and third chances, not just the one-off," he said. "Pucks to the net, go hard to the net, look for rebounds, stay in the fight."

Renney called it doing the simple things. But why have the simple things been so hard for the Rangers?

"It makes it a lot easier to do them when you're doing it collectively," said Renney. "If it's one guy trying to make that happen and the other four aren't on the same page, it makes that difficult. It's really about managing your shift, recognizing the little things will get you ice, will get you an opportunity in the offensive zone. The big thing there is if it's five guys in the picture, wherever you are on both sides of the puck, the simple things become just that.

"We've got guys in here that have scored before. We're just hitting a drought at the wrong time. We've just got to keep working harder. That's the key ingredient."
-- Scott Gomez

"If you're disconnected on either side of the puck and you're alone or there's only a couple of guys on that job, it makes playing the game pretty tough. The big thing here is understand the game is played and skated by five guys. And if we do that in all three zones, with the requisite work habits, the simple things become just that."

Dawes said the work has been there in practice, but for whatever reason it hasn't been enough.

"We've been working on that in practice all year and we're going to continue doing that," he said. "Hockey is different from other sports. In basketball you can go shoot hundreds of shots every day and find your rhythm, work yourself into it. It's something you have to keep working at and going towards. When you do get those opportunities, we really have to bear down on them and make sure we make them count."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
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