Rangers want to put it together quickly
Rangers coach John Tortorella has it mapped out: A six-day training camp program that includes intense conditioning drills and implementing at least part of his system before the season opener next Saturday.
In his favor: The Rangers roster has plenty of returnees who know what to expect. There are only five new faces in camp, all forwards: Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, Arron Asham and rookie Chris Kreider, who jumped aboard for 18 playoff games last spring after winning the NCAA championship with Boston College.
Based on last season, when the Rangers finished on top of the Eastern Conference with 109 points and edged the Senators and Capitals in seven-game playoff series before falling to the Devils in six games, Tortorella has confidence in the work ethic and passion of his core guys.
That starts with Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist. Then there is Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi on defense and the forwards includes sniper Marian Gaborik, who says he is rehabbed and ready after June shoulder surgery, as well as center Brad Richards and gritty captain Ryan Callahan.
Nash, 28, the elite power forward who played in Switzerland during the lockout, should provide an offensive jolt. He has scored 30 or more goals in six of the last seven seasons.
But he understands that camp is just the first step. "We've got to figure it out pretty quick," Nash said. "It's a matter of getting back to game speed. No matter what we do here, it doesn't compare to game speed."
Expect to see Tortorella continue his practice of juggling line combinations -- keeping Nash and Richards together, and using Gaborik or speedster Carl Hagelin on the wing. Derek Stepan is the second-line center, and he'll likely be flanked by Gaborik or Hagelin, and Callahan.
Pyatt is a big free-agent winger who had a quality playoff with Phoenix last spring. Halpern is a center who can win faceoffs and contribute on the penalty kill. Asham is a battler who has played for teams up and down the Atlantic Division. They will be on the third and fourth lines.
Will those veterans be enough to help offset the contributions of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anismov and defense prospect Tim Erixon (all traded to Columbus for Nash), as well as Brandon Prust, who signed a four-year, $10 million deal with Montreal, and Ruslan Fedotenko, who joined the Flyers? We'll see.
Another loose end was whether defenseman Michael Del Zotto will be re-signed in time for a full camp. Negotiations were continuing Saturday.
"All the teams are in the same boat as far as a little bit of uncertainty," said Tortorella, "but I feel really good about our group and always have, even through this [the lockout], that they're handling themselves the right way."
Only some questions can be answered in a week-long camp, and although Callahan predicted that the team is hungry and prepared, he warned that no one should panic if the Blueshirts don't win three straight out of the gate in a 48-game season.
"How you finish is really important, too," he said.