PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Another 17,000 fans will pack O2 Arena tonight, and some of them will be hoping to catch a glimpse of what the National Hockey League is all about.
So this is one of those rare occasions where the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning get to make a first impression for the second time. However, for Olaf Kolzig, it should be his chance to make a first impression on the Czech fans for the first time.
Even though Mike Smith was brilliant in stopping 39 of the Rangers' 41 shots in the first game of the Bridgestone NHL Premiere Prague 2008, the plan as of Saturday was to start the 38-year-old Kolzig in the second game.
The Rangers will have Henrik Lundqvist back between the pipes, and he is coming off of a strong season debut Saturday night in which he stopped 20 of 21 shots. Lundqvist was a bit shaky in the preseason, but he said he was just trying to find his rhythm.
If Saturday is any indication, he found it.
"You're right there fast after a couple of weeks, but mentally it takes a couple of games to get the game face on," Lundqvist said. "When you know it's more pressure on you and more important games it's definitely easier to get the mental part going. I felt a lot better (Saturday) than any other game I played so far this year."
The same holds true for veterans like Markus Naslund and Wade Redden, two newcomers to the Rangers' lineup who struggled at times in the preseason but played a sound game Saturday. Naslund scored the first goal and finished with four shots in 19:29 of ice time. Redden was solid in 22:05.
"As a team we're starting to see some synchronicity finally, and guys are in tune with their instincts, too," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "There is no question that as a team you could certainly feel that we were very much into this. There was a certain huge level of concentration and preparation. The mood of the team would suggest that this was the big time, this is what we do for a living. Those guys are examples of the effort that is required."
The Lightning are hoping to get more shots on Lundqvist after putting only 21 on him Saturday night. Even so, Martin St. Louis said he was pleased with his team's chances early on, only they had nothing to show for it.
"Our offensive players had their chances, but that's winning and losing," Lightning coach Barry Melrose said. "They buried their chances and we didn't early."
That being said, Renney hopes the Rangers learned from their mistakes of mismanaging the puck. Especially early on, Renney said the Rangers gave it away too many times in the high slot, between the circles and at the blue line.
"Certainly Tampa Bay has a great strike in the counterattack," Renney said. "If you manage the puck you can manage your opponent, or you can certainly manage the amount of ice they use. We gave them enough to feel good about heading into (tonight) and we have to make sure we rectify that problem."
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org