Arthur Staple Arthur Staple

Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school sports, hockey and football.

Chris Drury isn't one to dwell. He knows last season wasn't what he wanted - for himself or for the Rangers, the team he captains.

They were a shootout goal away from a playoff berth; the strongest memory he has of the season was the train ride home from Philadelphia in April after that final loss.

"It was just awful, knowing that was it. But you want to be able to learn from it," Drury told Newsday in a phone interview on Thursday. "You have to be able to know why we were there.

"When we had success, it was because we figured out how hard we had to play and how smart we had to play. When we only did one or the other, things didn't go as well, and the result of the season was what we got."

Drury, like almost every other Ranger, had his first full season with John Tortorella, and it took some getting used to. On both sides. Tortorella, who was an assistant on the silver-medal winning U.S. Olympic team that Drury played a key role for, has learned from his captain, and ideally, it will lead to better numbers from Drury, whose 14 goals and 32 points were career lows.

"Dru and I really got to know one another, and I love the guy," Tortorella told Newsday. "I think we really bounced him around last year, because the guy will do whatever is asked of him, whatever we need him to do. I want to be able to put him in a more consistent role."

Consistency is the watchword for the Rangers, because it simply wasn't there last season. There was the 7-1-0 start, the 7-1-2 finish and a lot of iffy play in between. Tortorella made great demands from the start of training camp last September, a team that wasn't necessarily built for immediate success. By the end of the season, on that train ride home from Philly, there were certainly signs that many Rangers had gotten the message.

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"Whether it's a 30-minute practice, training camp, a game in November or a game in April," Drury said, "there's a certain way you have to prepare and play."

Drury would never say it, but he put a lot of pressure on himself last season to perform. He was part of the Rangers' big free-agent spending spree three summers ago and, with Scott Gomez dealt to the Canadiens last summer, Drury was left to carry the load.

"He takes so much on his shoulders, he cares so much, I think it almost hurts him sometimes," Tortorella said. "I want to see him relax a little bit, just let himself go and play. He wants to be the guy for the Rangers. It binds him up."

There were a few Rangers who weren't sure what Tortorella wanted, or simply could not deliver. Wade Redden will come to camp needing to prove he belongs among the top six or seven defensemen; Sean Avery has to be Sean Avery every night, not every so often.

The benefits of the Rangers' young core having a year with Tortorella will help, too, and help more if another crop of rookies can emerge out of camp.

"The kids were starting to get it, I think," Tortorella said. "[Michael] Del Zotto, Cally [Ryan Callahan] - they had some bumps, and Cally got hurt, but they were getting there. Dubi [Brandon Dubinsky] made terrific strides, but he's got a long way to go."

And Drury will be there, too. Some fans took out their frustration on the captain for not being a rah-rah leader, for his low numbers, for his $7-million salary, but coach and captain are front and center leading up to this season.

"What's the old saying - the only thing worse than a mistake is not learning from it?" Drury said. "We have to take the crushing disappointment of being a shootout goal away from the playoffs and turn it into a positive, which is that we know what it takes and what we have to do to make it happen."