The New York Rangers
' 38-14-5 record -- the best in the Eastern Conference going into Tuesday night's play -- signals to the rest of the NHL that they are a very good team on the ice.
Off the ice, coach John Tortorella said, the Rangers remain a work in progress.
The addition of Stanley Cup-winning veterans Brad Richards
and Mike Rupp
has greatly added to the Rangers' locker room chemistry, Tortorella said before Tuesday night's game against Atlantic Division rival Pittsburgh.
"That's one of the positives out of this year, our locker room is growing," Tortorella said.
Still, Tortorella isn't ready to call his team a finished product, not with more than one-quarter of the regular season and the playoffs remaining.
Does he like what he sees -- and, most importantly, what he hears? Most definitely. But Tortorella said there remains work to be done, even if there is every suggestion this is a tight-knit and cohesive group.
"If teams are going to be successful, the locker room needs to grow and self-sustain," Tortorella said. "I think we're still in the middle of that. I've talked to a lot of coaches after the season's over, guys that have won the Stanley Cup, and you hear about how coaches say the room takes over itself. I think that's a very important characteristic. It's not (all) about the play on the ice; how the locker room is conducted and how people handle themselves there sometimes is more important that some of the things that go on on the ice. Most successful teams have that."
Tortorella had it in 2004, when the Tampa Bay Lightning
-- with Richards in the lineup -- won the Stanley Cup.
Rupp points to team leaders such as Ryan Callahan
and Dan Girardi
as helping unite these Rangers. A season ago, the Rangers earned the conference's eighth and final playoff spot, winning 44 games; this season, the Rangers already have 38 victories with 25 games remaining.
"They sacrifice their bodies every night for the team. It goes a long way when your leaders are doing that," said Rupp, who won a Stanley Cup with the Devils. "It brings the team together. We're willing to make sacrifices to get team wins, so it's good."
The Rangers held an optional skate in advance of their second game in Pittsburgh this season. They won 3-1 on Jan. 6, their fourth consecutive victory there since Consol Energy Center opened last season.
Among those skating was former Penguins forward Ruslan Fedotenko
, who has missed the last five games with a head injury.
The Rangers' projected lineup:
- Derek Stepan
- Marian Gaborik
- Brad Richards
- Ryan Callahan
- Brian Boyle
- Brandon Prust
- John Mitchell
- Ruslan Fedotenko
- Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto
- Anton Stralman
- Steve Eminger
, who is 8-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage and three shutouts in his last nine games, is expected to be in goal, with Martin Biron
as the backup.