The Leafs entered the weekend tops in the NHL in goals per game (3.82) but ranked 29th in goals against per game (3.91).
It’s a different story on Broadway.
“We’ve been pretty good defensively, we’re just having a hard time finding the back of the net,” Rangers head coach Tom Renney told The Canadian Press on Friday.
The Rangers are No. 1 in goals against per game (1.78) but 30th in average goals scored (1.67). When they added star free-agent centres Scott Gomez and Chris Drury this summer to a lineup that already had Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka, no one on earth could have predicted the Rangers would be dead last in offence four weeks into the NHL season.
But like other teams have found out in recent years, it often takes a while for new faces to come together on a team and the Rangers (3-5-1) are finding that out right now.
“You know, before I had really experienced it to this degree I would have said, ‘Ah sure, I doubt it,”‘ said Renney. “But you know, I think the tendency has been to overpass, to try to accommodate each other, to try to do the extraordinary things to make the little things work. As opposed to the other way around.
“I think we’ve now identified better with keeping the game simple and more of a north-south game, more of an attack inside the blue-line and get it to the net as opposed to making too many plays.”
Gomez, in particular, is off to a slow start with only three points (2-1) in nine games, perhaps feeling the burden of the US$51.5-million, seven-year deal he signed to join the Blueshirts.
“The biggest thing and I think the problem that some players have had here in the past, we’re not going to equate their success with whether or not they’ve got 10 points in five games or anything like that,” said Renney. “We’re going to equate their success with how well they’re performing within our team system, how committed they are to it and then look for small successes. And quite honestly, as much as he’s had a slow start from a points perspective, he’s been very good for us in other areas of the game.
“Which you’d like to think will translate into what we want in the end, and that’s him to be able to contribute offensively.”
Gomez is symbolic of the team’s overall slow start. The Rangers were pre-season darlings across the league with media all over the continent picking them to challenge Ottawa for the Eastern Conference title.
There’s the old saying about reading one’s press clippings…
“Our expectations are high, too,” said Renney. “We did everything we could to try and keep it in perspective that as we read those things the puck still hadn’t even been dropped yet. I think that’s the most important thing to keep in mind, there’s just so much hockey to play.
“As much as we were being touted early as one of those teams to contend with, we believe that through our process we will get to that point, but the most important thing is to listen to ourselves and not everything else out there.”
The Rangers are coming off a 2-0 home victory over the New Jersey Devils, just another reminder that the 32 games they have in their own division this season will all be tough ones.
“It’s a good division, boy,” said Renney. “Philly, as I expected, is a very improved team. They’re a very good hockey team. Pittsburgh is a bit up and down but they’re just too good. New Jersey is going to play Sutter hockey and make teams pay for that. So I like the look of them. And I think the Islanders – Teddy (Nolan) is just a really good motivator.
“They’ve got their sleeves rolled up and they’re playing hard.”