No panic in room for these Rangers

Updated: March 14, 2006, 6:10 PM ET
ESPN.com

OPENING FACEOFF
Henrik Lundqvist
The gilded coach hasn't quite turned into a pumpkin for the Cinderella New York Rangers. But there is a definite whiff of decomposition in this most interesting of seasons on Broadway.

On one hand, this is traditionally the time of the season for recrimination and finger-pointing, after the annual divesting of overpaid, underachieving stars at the trade deadline. But this time, the Rangers not only kept their team intact, but GM Glen Sather and assistant GM Don Maloney also added Petr Sykora (in January) and gifted if troubled defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh (trade deadline).

But after taking points in eight straight games leading into the Olympic break and avoiding the proverbial wall the entire season, the Rangers have collapsed.

Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss to Atlanta brought the Blueshirts' losing streak to five games; they have failed to score more than twice in any of those games. And their problems might just be beginning, as scoring leader Jaromir Jagr tries to play through hip and groin issues and Martin Rucinsky left Sunday's game with a knee injury.

Still, if there is something that speaks to the Rangers' future, as it relates not only to possible playoff success this spring but also to the long-term future of the franchise, it's the manner with which they have approached this stretch.

Despite the offensive frustration, the Rangers have simply refused to quit working.

In dropping a 3-2 shootout game in Atlanta on Wednesday, the Rangers and Thrashers went at it hammer and tong in a wildly exciting game. It was so again on Sunday in New York's 3-2 overtime loss to Atlanta. Also, the Rangers have not given up more than three goals during the recent five-game slide. And although gold-medal-winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has yet to win since returning from Torino, he has been sharp, especially in a 1-0 loss to the Canadiens on Saturday.

Veteran Steve Rucchin arrived in the offseason after spending 10 seasons in Anaheim and couldn't understand why people were so down on the franchise.

"When I first got here, I didn't understand what all the negativity was about," Rucchin said.

As for the bubble bursting on a team that most picked to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, Rucchin seemed nonplussed.

"I just don't think that can really happen here. Everyone in this locker room is a hard worker," he said. "And teams that work hard don't fall off the map."

Rucinsky has seen the good and the bad in Gotham and describes this season as the most enjoyable of his professional career. "Now it seems as though the team's stabilized and we have a nice family here," said Rucinsky, who has 51 points in 49 games.

Ask around the Ranger dressing room about the team's success, and players all point in one direction: at head coach Tom Renney and his staff. "They've been on top of everything all season. They're so well-prepared," Rucinsky said.

In a dressing room that has long been a fault line of discontent, there is little question the establishment of stability is directly linked to the team's success.

"We sure hope that we've identified with one thing and that is stability, and the level of, I guess, confidence that goes along with that so you can even push the envelope further and squeeze the cloth a little bit more to bring even more out of people," Renney said.

"This is a tough business," added Renney, who was coach in Vancouver in 1996-97 before being replaced 19 games into the following season by Mike Keenan. "I don't think anybody ever feels completely safe, and believe me, I know what that means. But as a skater, it can't be easy. What we've tried to do is really develop a bond between our people that we care about, and for, each other. Because of that, we have had something going a number of times this year. And we want to reacquaint ourselves with that as quickly as possible.

"Most days, it doesn't feel like work. It feels like it's someplace you really want to go and enjoy the experience. And I think because of that, we've developed pretty good resiliency because we're not blowing things out of proportion."
-- Scott Burnside

SAY WHAT?
The "king of irony" award of the week goes to Chicago GM Dale Tallon, who had this to say about talented center Tyler Arnason, whom he dealt to Ottawa for (dare we say it?) underachieving minor-leaguer Brandon Bochenski.

"Arnie has all kinds of ability, and he's underachieved," Tallon told reporters in Chicago after the deal. "Arnie's got a chance to be a star, but it's been a frustrating last couple of years with him, to watch the ability he has and the inconsistent play he's shown and realize he can do so much.''

This from a GM who appears to be a magnet for the overpaid and underachieving. Arnason, for the record, notched an assist in his first game with the Senators, a victory over Atlanta. The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have lost five of six and eight of their last 10. -- S.B.

CAUGHT IN THE NETS
ROLO-COASTER
Within hours of the trade deadline, Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe was being feted as a minor genius for having landed netminder Dwayne Roloson from Minnesota and talented forward Sergei Samsonov from Boston. There was talk of a Stanley Cup run.

Oops. Since then, the Oilers have dropped three straight games, including Sunday's heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Roloson's former mates in Minnesota. Roloson has been between the pipes for all three losses, and while he hasn't had much in the way of defensive help, he hasn't been overwhelming. He gave up five goals on 31 shots, including three in the third period of a 5-2 loss to San Jose in his first start with Edmonton. Then, against Columbus on Saturday, Roloson got tangled up with a teammate while trying to clear the puck in overtime and allowed a bad-angle goal to get past him on the same play to close out a 4-3 loss. The losses have suddenly dropped the Oilers out of a playoff position as they began the week tied with Anaheim for eighth place. The Ducks have two games in hand on the Oilers. -- S.B.

THE FIVE HOLE

Scott Burnside
Edmonton at Minnesota (Tuesday): OK, so what does Oilers coach Craig MacTavish do? Does he go back to Roloson for a fourth chance to win his first start as an Oiler? Or does he try to stop the bleeding by going to Ty Conklin? Either way, this one should be a dandy as the Wild have crept back into the Western Conference playoff hunt at the expense of the Oilers' faltering.
FANTASY ISLAND
Who to start: Tyler Arnason moved to a talented Senators team, which should bode well for his stats. He already has an assist and four shots on goal in two games with Ottawa, and those numbers could grow over the next week.
Who to drop: It might be a safe bet to keep Canucks winger Markus Naslund on the bench for the next few games since he's posted no points in the last three games. His shots on goal are also down (just six in that three-game span).
IN THE BOX
Well, it's that time of the season when we're starting to look at who will rise into the playoffs and who will fall off the map. We're "sending out an SOS" to the Maple Leafs and Coyotes, courtesy of The Police classic "Message in a Bottle."
THEY SAID IT
"We were patient even though there was no score for awhile. We did not give up a lot of turnovers. We had a few, but not as many as we have had in the last couple of months. We'll take the points any way we can. I don't really care what it looks like."
-- Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin on the team's latest win