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Renney's Rangers off to so-so start under heavy expectations

It's a slow start for a club facing sky-high expectations in the Big Apple, with fans and media buoyed by last year's turnaround season under head coach Tom Renney, the club's first foray in the playoffs after seven seasons out. This season was seen as the next step. Losing three of four games at Madison Square Garden then wasn't exactly in the cards.

"I'm not (pleased), but I'm trying to keep it realistic, too," Renney said Thursday from New York. "Because to rebuild and become a Stanley Cup contender doesn't happen in one year. So we're trying to keep perspective on this as well."

A productive off-season saw the Rangers add the likes of veteran winger Brendan Shanahan, centre Matt Cullen, winger Adam Hall, and defencemen Aaron Ward and Karel Rachunek without losing any key players.

"Due to the integration of some key people to our lineup and trying to continue to re-define ourselves, you're going to suffer growing pains and every team goes through what we're going through and hopefully that's it for us this year," Renney said. "We certainly want to get it back on track as quickly as possible."

There are no problems on the offensive side. The Rangers are averaging 3.43 goals a game, which ranked fourth in the NHL before Thursday's games. The problem is they're also averaging 4.00 goals against, 27th in the league.

"Where I think we've had some problems is just paying attention to our jobs away from the puck defensively," Renney said. "We seem to have a little bit more offence this year and with that there's a mentality perhaps of having to go, go, go, whereas it's not a case of that, it's a case of what you leave not what you take.

"So we have to come back to that and recognize that we'll develop as much offence as we need provided we play a bit better defensively. I think that has been our dilemma so far."

Up next for the Rangers comes a chance to shine on Hockey Night In Canada (7 p.m. ET) against a Leafs team that stumbled Wednesday at home to Colorado after a strong start to the season.

"I like Toronto, I like the way they recovered very nicely from their opening game against Ottawa," Renney said. "They made a huge statement for themselves that whenever they step on the banana peel going forward, which they did last night, that they can recover quickly from that. We have to be very cognizant of that and recognize that if we don't come back with an A-plus game that we're in for a long night in Toronto.

"So we want to make sure if anyone has a long night it's the Maple Leafs."

A big difference from last season in that the Rangers weren't expected to do much of anything last October, but took the league by storm. They won't sneak up on anybody this year.

"It was probably easier for us to come and play when no one had any real expectations for us a year ago," Renney said. "Now they are a little higher and we want to respond to that challenge because it's a great motivator. Having said that, other teams see that and say: 'The Rangers are improved, they do work, they do have a team plan, and we have to make sure ours is better and we have to go after them and not let them feel good about their game.'

"As a consequence, I think teams are much better prepared for us than they were a year ago and because of that we have to be ready to accept the challenge of being better ourselves."

Jaromir Jagr (11 points), Michael Nylander (10 points) and Shanahan (seven goals) have been tremendous offensively, as Renney pointed out, but special teams could be a little better. They sat 22nd on the penalty kill through Wednesday and 13th on the power play.

"Our power play, even though we were shut out last night (3-0 loss to Nashville), should provide some offence for us this season," said Renney. "Last year at this time we got a few power-play goals in games that sort of pushed us over the top with respect to momentum and confidence. And this year because our speciality teams haven't quite been as good as a year ago yet, we haven't scored that goal or had that big penalty kill. It's a real fine line."


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