The New York Rangers' defeat of the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday has given them four wins in a row, and nine in their past ten games. So when coach John Tortorella hit the "reset" button on practice after his troops didn't come out with the requisite hop in their step, he sent a clear message this team needs to remember: The season is only 39 games old, and despite leading the league, nothing should be taken for granted.
This is a tight-knit squad who has not played at all this year like games are served on a silver platter. But Tuesday night at home against the Phoenix Coyotes (7:00 p.m. EST, MSG), they'll get to continue to put Tortorella's message into action and attempt to play better than they did in the last-second win in Phoenix when Brad Richards bailed them out.
With a league-leading 56 points and a league-low nine losses, the Blueshirts have put themselves into excellent position as the midway point of the season nears. There's no doubt they've shocked the "experts" around the league -- playing so well without No. 1 defenseman Marc Staal and now without a top-four defenseman in Michael Sauer and getting stellar play from the blueliners who have had to step up. In addition, their youth on defense and offense has continued to grow, and they have all been key factors in this team's ascension.
Richards has also fit in seamlessly to the mix, even if he and Marian Gaborik haven't gelled perfectly from the get-go. The fact that the two haven't yet fit into a line has been a blessing for New York since it has added more balance to their lines, giving them two excellent scoring lines, in addition to a third and fourth line which has the ability to contribute as well. That and the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist has given the Rangers a plus-34 goal differential, third in the NHL.
Phoenix is 11th in the Western Conference with 45 points after playing so well in the beginning of the year. The Yotes managed only six wins in December and are 1-1-1 in January. Mike Smith has returned from a groin injury and has given up one goal in each of the past two games. Ray Whitney leads the team with 36 points, while Radim Vrbata's 19 goals paces the way. Shane Doan is the only other player with double-digit goal totals, 12. They are a pretty good team defensively, but their problems lie in that there just isn't a lot of scoring and no real big-time threat.