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Teams cannot afford a slow start in short season

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers and Chris Neil #25 of the Ottawa Senators chase the puck into the corner in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (April 23, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- After a long recovery from concussion symptoms, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal debuted Jan. 1 at the Winter Classic in Philadelphia last season and played 46 regular-season games. Staal came back healthy and ready this past fall, but the lockout derailed his plans, and now a 48-game schedule is similar only in length.

"For me, health-wise, you can't compare it," said Staal, who skated with 14 teammates at the MSG Training Center Monday, "but as a team, you look at the shorter schedule, you've got to be ready right away. If you get behind, you don't have much time to right the ship. You can't be satisfied with just one point a night; you've got to win in overtime, in shootouts."

Indeed, the pressure will be on everyone.

Forward Brian Boyle did the math. "Every loss means double; it's like losing two," he said. "You go on a three-game losing streak, you put yourself in a hole. It's not an exact science, but it's going to be a sprint, almost like playoff hockey, and that happens with a lot of teams; they're in 10th place in January and it's playoff hockey. It's going to be 30 teams going nuts."

Mike Rupp, an 11-year veteran who has played for five teams, thinks that in a full season, styles change in January.

"You're not going to play in this league unless you're focused for 82 games. You'll be revealed right away," Rupp said. "But I believe there's a transition after Christmas; you just know it's time to start buckling down, maybe you don't play so freely, just a little more structured. That's what we're facing now."

Former Ranger Adam Graves, who played in the 48-game 1995 season, believes that one difference will be that year-round training regimens, nutrition advances and the overall skill level of NHL players will allow more teams to hit the ground running.

"He's right, but we'll see how it affects the body," Boyle said. "I could train all summer; I've got to get on the ice, stop and start and battle. This is probably the highest level of intensity I've skated with in a while."

The intensity level can't slip, center Brad Richards said. "Last year was a great learning experience, but last year is really the past," he said. "We're really going to be a target; we're not sneaking up on anybody and we're going to have to play better than we did last year."

Notes & quotes: Restricted free agent defenseman Michael Del Zotto is unsigned, but he skated with the team Monday and would like a resolution "as soon as possible." Del Zotto, 22, said his agent (Don Meehan) and Rangers president Glen Sather were talking. "I'm hoping for a fair deal for me and the team," said Del Zotto, who had a base salary of $875,000 for the previous three years, with bonuses boosting the cap hit to $1.08 million . . . Henrik Lundqvist, Martin Biron, Marian Gaborik, Dan Girardi and Stu Bickel are expected to join the team by Wednesday.

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