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Atlantic: Rangers relearn an important lesson just in time

by Chuck Gormley

The Rangers are on the upswing after winning 5-3 in Montreal for their fifth victory in their last six games.
It was Jan. 10 and the New York Rangers had just lost their fifth-straight game.

Having blown a 2-0 lead in a humiliating 6-2 loss to the Flyers, the last-place Rangers skated off the Madison Square Garden ice under a hailstorm of boos.

How, their fans wondered, could a team that looked so good on paper look so disheveled on the ice?

Chris Drury, who enjoys losing about as much as Jeremy Roenick enjoys silence, said it might have been the perfect medicine for a team that needed to be reminded of a basic truth in hockey.

“Defense wins hockey games,” Drury said. “We hear it all the time, but it’s true. Sometimes you go through stretches when you’re cheating defensively and wondering why you’re losing. The better we are defensively, the more chances we’re going to get and the better chance we have to win.”

Since that blowout loss to Philadelphia, the Rangers have committed themselves to playing the same defensive style that had them at the top of the division in mid-November. Their 5-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens Sunday gave the Rangers their fifth win in six tries. And in those wins they've allowed just five goals.

With their recent run of success, the Rangers have climbed back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture and are closing in on the rotating door that is first place in the Atlantic Division.

So, are the Rangers as good as they were advertised over the summer, when the free-agent additions of Scott Gomez and Drury had pundits picking them to challenge for the conference title?

Chuck Gormley
Chuck Gormley reports on the Atlantic Division every week throughout the 2007-08 regular season.

“I think they are,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “They’ve got a great goalie (Henrik Lundqvist). They’ve got some potent offensive players (Jaromir Jagr, Scott Gomez, Brendan Shanahan, Drury). They’ve got some grit (Sean Avery, Colton Orr, Ryan Hollweg). They’ve got all the attributes to be a good team.

“I think they’re still finding their way like a lot of teams are. There’s no question they’re a dangerous team. Their power play poses a threat and they’ve made a commitment to playing defense. I don’t see a weakness in their hockey team, to be honest with you.”

You don’t have to sell that to the Devils.

Last week the Rangers made it a perfect five in a row against their closest geographic rivals. Lundqvist, who struggled through most of December, has been in net for all five victories over the Devils, allowing just five goals in the wins.

”It's that time of the year now and Henrik understands the magnitude of where we are," Rangers coach Tom Renney said.

"We're keeping them in the playoff race right now," said Devils forward Zach Parise.

The Rangers would like to take some of the credit. They’ve reversed their fortunes by getting timely goals from their power play, scoring early, and getting key contributions from Gomez whenever they face his former team.

Gomez, who was on the winning end of five Devils’ victories over the Rangers last season, has a goal and four assists against his former team this season. But the Rangers have also set the tone early by scoring first in 10 of their last 13 games.

"We've been a lot more disciplined lately," Drury said. "It's down to the wire here. We need to get points and we need to get wins. We starting to build some momentum and we're starting to see how we have to play. It's defense first, and we'll go from there."


Hats off to Knuble -- You’d think that with 175 goals in 706 NHL games, Mike Knuble would have had a few hat tricks in there somewhere. Not true. Before turning the trick in a 3-0 win over the Ducks Saturday night, Knuble had not scored three times in one game since he turned pro back in 1995. “I even had two (goals) in 27 seconds when I was with Boston and I thought that would be the night,” Knuble said. “It wasn’t. I’ve never had one at the pro level. It’s a special feeling.” ( 1st goal  2nd goal  |  3rd goal )

The Flyers have recorded seven hat tricks this season. Last season they had none.

Around the Atlantic -- The Flyers are also 13-5-2 in games that follow a loss this season. … No Sidney Crosby? No Marc-Andre Fleury? No problem. The Penguins haven’t let injuries to two of their key players get in the way of making a run at the division lead. Evgeni Malkin and Ty Conklin won’t allow it. Since Crosby injured his right ankle on Jan. 18, Malkin has five goals and four assists in six games. The Pens are 3-2-1 in those games and have not lost back-to-back games in regulation since Dec. 11-13. Conklin is one of the big reasons. Since being called up as an injury replacement for Fleury on Dec. 6, Conklin has gone 12-3-1 in 16 starts, turning a last-place team in November into a team one point out of first in February. … While the Rangers, Flyers and Pens are on a roll, the Isles and Devils are slumping. It hasn’t helped that a flu bug has infected the Islanders’ dressing room. The Isles went into this week on a four-game losing streak in which they scored just five goals. The Islanders’ 128 goals are tied for lowest in the conference and their 1-5-1 stretch dropped them out of the elite eight in the conference. "The effort has to be there,” coach Ted Nolan said. “We'll continue to talk about it. The turnovers is the part of our game that's unacceptable." … The Devils’ offense has been hot and cold lately. After scoring six goals in a three-game losing streak, the Devils erupted for six in a win over the Kings Saturday night. One of the goals came off the stick of defenseman Colin White, who had gone 125 games without one. “I stopped looking when it reached 100 games,” White said. “I hope it doesn't take this long for another one." The Devils’ recent struggles are the result of their inability to score. LW Dainius Zubrus has two goals in his last 24 games; RW Brian Gionta has one in his last 17 and LW Zach Parise has three in his last 14.



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