GREENBURGH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — After a quick playoff exit last spring following a series of deep runs, the New York Rangers know they’re being overlooked this season.
That’s OK with them. Their focus is on getting better than they were a year ago.
“We expect a lot of ourselves no matter what people are saying,” Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said Wednesday at the team’s practice facility. “We want to be up there at the end of the year making a name for ourselves. … I think our group is out there to prove to a lot of people that we can compete and really just be a tough team to play against.”
The Rangers earned 101 points last season but capped it with a first-round playoff exit against eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh in April. That disappointment, followed runs to the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, the Stanley Cup finals in 2014, and back to the conference finals in 2015.
Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist believes it’s important the team learn from both its past successes and its mistakes.
“We can’t rely on the past or just being OK because the league is too good,” he said. “We had some years we went far in the playoffs, were a consistent team, but the reason we were there really was we worked extremely hard, paid attention to all the details in the game. If you don’t do that, it’s a quick drop to being not consistent, so you just have to do all the little things right.”
Derek Stepan emphasized the team has moved on from last season’s disappointing finish and their focus on winning a championship hasn’t changed.
“It’s always the same,” he said. “I think our group has really erased (the loss to the Penguins). We’ve learned from our years past, but we’re in a new year, we’re moving on, we’re ready to get this new season started.”
The new season includes some new players including a mix of veterans such as Michael Grabner and youngsters Jimmy Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich and Mika Zibanejad. Buchnevich, 21, joined the Rangers from the KHL, and Vesey, 23, signed after having 24 goals and 22 assists in 33 games for Harvard last season while winning the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s player of the year. Zibanejad, acquired from Ottawa in a deal that sent Derick Brassard to the Senators, is also 23 but already has more than four seasons of NHL experience.
The young players all earned praise during training camp, especially rookies Buchnevich and Vesey.
“They’re both extremely talented,” Stepan said. “As the NHL and hockey keeps growing their game these younger guys coming in are just more and more talented. These two guys are the elite talent and they got some things that they’ll learn just like any other rookie, but these guys are special rookies for sure.”
The Rangers start the season with a tough test against the crosstown-rival Islanders at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night. Last season, the Islanders won all four matchups for their first sweep of a regular season series between the teams.
“Last year they had our number,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “This season is a new season and everybody is anxious to get this going here. … I believe we’ve added some good young pieces that bring energy and good speed and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we’re going to look like tomorrow.”
The Rangers start off with an injury as they will be without Kevin Klein for the opener due to a strained back. Vigneault said the defenseman is day-to-day.
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