Roughly 30 players were on the ice Monday morning at the MSG Training Center for the latest informal Rangers practice, the number swelling with the official start of training camp just days away. Unlike several weeks ago, the speed and focus of these on-ice workouts has ratcheted up, and the Blueshirts are clearly getting excited for Friday when Alain Vigneault's second camp as coach of the Rangers gets underway.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist even offered with a smile that he was happy to see a group of the team's beat reporters sidling up to his locker after the practice.
"Really, it's great to see you guys, because it means we're getting started soon," Lundqvist told the reporters. "I'm excited to get going. I really am."
Of course it has taken Lundqvist a period of time to arrive at this point to be ready for a new season and to eagerly embrace what he called "the grind" of another long campaign. He admitted Monday that it took him some time to get over losing the Stanley Cup Final to the Kings.
Goalie - NYR
GAA: 2.36 | Sv%: .920
"It was hard not to think about it even though you try and take a break and get away from it," Lundqvist explained. "I went home (to Sweden) and those first couple of weeks I kept thinking about all the missed opportunities and how close we came, but then I started to appreciate all the good things that happened throughout the year--and there were a lot. Now I feel refreshed and am ready to get this thing going again."
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh said on Monday that the trip to the Cup Final, as well as the journey the Rangers took to reach that point, was a tremendous learning experience and would sereve the team well moving forward into 2014-15. He also noted that he did not expect a fall off in the team's intensity or recent on-ice success as is often the case the year after a team reaches the Final.
"We've got a really good mix of guys here, so I don't see that happening," McDonagh said. "I think we all learned a lot, saw what it takes to be a champion, and are hungry for that chance again."
Though the roster will look a bit different this season, the Rangers once again will be among the favorites in the Eastern Conference. It is something the team has come to expect of themselves in recent years.
The Blueshirts have responded to higher expectations with a division championship, a regular-season conference title, and a Stanley Cup Final appearance in the past three years. The team also recorded at least one playoff series victory in each of the last three seasons.
Lundqvist believes the high expectations are warrented again in 2014-15.
"I think we are contenders, and we were a contender last year, so we should have the same mindset that if we do everything right and get our game where it needs to be, and get a few bounces along the way, we know we can do it," Lundqvist explained. "Our mindset at the start of the season is really important. We have to be ready to start over. Last year we realized just how much work it takes to get to where we did; but I think we are contenders again this season. Now we have just reset and start over. It's a long year. It's a grind; but that run we had last year will help us down the road as this season progresses."