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Five Questions: Rangers' McDonagh talks captaincy

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features New York Rangers defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh:

TORONTO -- Properly analyzing what it means to be the team that has come close to winning the Stanley Cup two years in a row can be a difficult exercise.

One the one hand, you're close, which is better than the alternative, so that's good. On the other, close is never good enough when you're on a team that is good, has high expectations and doesn't raise the ultimate prize at the end of a long, taxing journey.

The New York Rangers have been the team that has epitomized close the past two years.

They went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 but lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings. They had Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final at home last season but lost 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It's all left a funny and yet sort of unsure feeling with captain Ryan McDonagh.

"It's better to say that you're there, that you know what you're capable of, and you know you have that opportunity with this group that we have," McDonagh said. "But it's frustrating."

How close the Rangers have gotten the past two seasons only to fall short of the ultimate goal led to some deep thoughts during the summer about the state of the team, the window of opportunity with the current core and what needs to be done to get over the hump.

"The fact that you're close means you just need a little bit more, a couple more things to go right, a couple more bounces here and there, more plays to be made," McDonagh said. "If we have the right belief and attitude from Day 1, we'll be able to make those plays."

McDonagh's trust in that belief and attitude comes from his long-standing relationship with many of his teammates. It's backed by back-to-back successful seasons with coach Alain Vigneault and his staff.

In addition, McDonagh's trust, belief and attitude is buoyed by the fact that he is more prepared to be the Rangers' leader going into this season than he was last season, his first wearing as captain.

He discussed the comfort level he has with his captaincy and other topics, including his feelings on his team at large, in a Q&A with NHL.com.

Here are Five Questions with … Ryan McDonagh:

What did you learn in your first season of being the captain in New York that you now know you can and will incorporate in your second season?

"I just learned a little more about how to carry myself and not put too much pressure on myself. Not think so much about the big picture, so to speak. It's about taking it day by day, focusing on having fun, enjoying it, making sure I'm prepared and making sure the guys are as prepared as they can be too. I have to make sure to bring a good attitude and focus on the little things that happen throughout the game and the season that will help us get the big chance. It helps going into the season now having gone through that process. I just feel a lot more comfortable going into this year as far as my voice in the room and what to expect as far as ups and downs."

Your voice in the room is interesting because after Game 2 against Tampa Bay in the conference finals last season you said things like embarrassing, stupid play and selfish. That seemed like you stepping into that captain's role at an important time. Were you saying that partially because you are the captain of this team and your voice needed to be heard?

"A lot of guys have a big voice in our room and everybody was saying the same things; it just so happened that I was the one that said it in the media. That's the kind of identity that we have in our group. It seems like everybody is on the same page. It's not my one opinion vs. the rest. I think it just kind of helped raise awareness to the guys that we couldn't afford to do that against a team like Tampa because ultimately they're going to make you pay. It was very uncharacteristic for us and it was added motivation for our group."

Is that you being in your comfort zone? Are you comfortable being that voice? Did that comfort grow as last season went on?

"Oh yeah. The only way to gain trust from your peers, your teammates, is going through experiences like that and them seeing you go out and play and give it all for your team. For them it becomes easier for them to buy in. They respect you when you say things like that, or speak about how the team is doing. They can feel that and respect you for it."

Sometimes change can be a good thing because it shakes things up and gets guys out of their comfort zone. The Rangers, though, have the same six defensemen this season as they had last season. Why can that be a good thing too?

"It shows that the organization feels strongly that this is a group that can accomplish something. It's about tendencies of a player. We learned a lot last year about what Kevin Klein can bring. He had some good offensive numbers last year with his big shot and his skating ability. There would be times throughout a game when I got a few shifts with him and it was helpful to know what he could do. That's good now too. We now know what Dan Boyle can bring to our power play instead of going into the season with questions about what he likes to do, where he likes the puck and what he can do for us. We had Keith Yandle since the [NHL Trade] Deadline, but he got accustomed to our team quickly and we learned in the playoffs what he can bring, another good-skating defensemen, puck mover, a guy who will be counted on for some offense."

Do you feel this team is better now than it was at the end of last season?

"Everybody likes to judge a team based on guys that you brought in or looking at who you lost. If you look at who we lost, we lost a Hall of Famer in [Martin] St. Louis and a great skater in Carl Hagelin, but at the same time we learned a lot more about players within our group that are coming back. Another year with this coaching staff, it only helps going into a third season with them. I think our group is very comfortable in what our identity is and understanding what is expected. We have very high expectations for ourselves and that takes a while for a team to develop that identity and culture."

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