A year ago, the New York Rangers were coming off a bevy of changes to the front office, the coaching staff and the roster. The result was a run to the Eastern Conference Final.
The Rangers are preparing for the new season with an eye on returning to the postseason again.
“We need the goal of making the playoffs,” said defenseman Jacob Trouba, the Rangers' new captain. “Once you get in that tournament, anything can happen. We found that out. It’s not easy to make the playoffs. ... The grind to get there is never easy. That’s what the focus needs to be, getting in the playoffs and that’s what we’re worried about.”
New York had 52 wins last season and earned its first postseason berth since 2017. The Rangers showed their resilience with comebacks in the first two rounds — winning seven-game series against Pittsburgh and Carolina — before falling to Tampa Bay in six games after winning the first two.
“We still have that bitter taste in our mouth a little bit, knowing that we were right there, that we had the 2-0 lead in the series at one point,” said forward Chris Kreider, who had a career-high 52 goals. “It’s just added motivation. ... We want to make the playoffs and give ourselves a chance to go a little bit further next year.”
Second-year coach Gerard Gallant is ready for his team to focus on the task in front of them.
“Last spring is over," Gallant said. “It’s a great experience for our players to get that playoff run, but that means nothing. A lot of teams are going to be a lot better in our division. From Day 1 on, your goal is to try to make the playoffs.”
The Rangers will have a different look this season after losing Ryan Strome and trade-deadline acquisitions Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano and Tyler Motte in free agency. In their place, New York signed Vincent Trochek and Ryan Carpenter. The newcomers will join an offense led by Kreider, Mika Zibanejad (29 goals, 52 assists) and Artemi Panarin (22 goals, 74 assists).
Youngsters Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko made key contributions and had big goals in the playoffs, and K'Andre Miller and Braden Schneider established themselves as mainstays on defense.
Trouba, one of six alternate captains last year, is the 28th captain (and 12th defenseman) in franchise history, and the first since Ryan McDonagh was traded in 2018.
“It’s a little different, but for me, preparation-wise, I don’t think it’s any different at all,” he said. “Just be myself. That’s what I did last year and the year before. ... Just be myself and everything will fall into place. I got a lot of help around me.”
Panarin plans on playing all over the ice and being less predictable like he was in his days in Columbus before signing with the Rangers in 2019.
“This change of style definitely will help me progress as a player,” he said through a translator. “It will definitely make it more difficult for the opponent to figure out our game, and it will help my teammates.”
Gallant said he supported what his star forward wants to do: "When he gets the puck I want him to be creative, make plays and that’s what he does.”
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Igor Shesterkin (36-13-4, 2.07 GAA, .935 save-percentage) is back after a Vezina Trophy-winning season. He will be backed up veteran Jaroslav Halak (14-4-7, 2.94 GAA), who replaces the traded Alexandar Georgiev. Louis Domingue will likely be third on the organization's depth chart after stepping in for injury-plagued Pittsburgh in the first round against the Rangers.
BREAKING DOWN THE SCHEDULE
The Rangers open the season at home on Oct. 11 against the Tampa Bay team that ousted them from the playoffs. New York will have a mostly balanced home/away schedule until a 29-day stretch from Feb. 11 to March 12 that has the team playing 11 of 14 games on the road.
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Vin A. Cherwoo, The Associated Press