A strong start to last season wasn't enough to keep the New York Rangers from missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04.
The Rangers hope that won't be the case this time when they open Saturday night on the road against the Buffalo Sabres.
After opening the season with a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh, New York followed with a seven-game winning streak. The Rangers, however, never won more than four in a row the rest of the way and were eliminated on the final day of the season with a 2-1 shootout loss at Philadelphia.
The Rangers finished with 87 points, one fewer than Eastern Conference finalists Philadelphia and Montreal, which claimed the seventh and eighth playoff spots.
"I am confident we're coming back and everybody will want to work extremely hard to bounce back from last year. But you can never promise anything because the league is so tight," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said.
Though the Rangers ultimately fell short after a strong start, they would certainly like to play well early and possibly set the tempo for a successful season.
That would mean breaking out after a mediocre effort in 2009-10.
Though the 218 goals they allowed were among the fewest in the East, the 222 the Rangers scored ranked near the middle of the conference. New York converted 18.3 percent of its power-play chances, but was among the NHL leaders with 1,159 penalty minutes.
Coach John Tortorella will again count on Lundqvist, who went 35-27-10 with a 2.38 goals-against average last season. However, he does not want to overuse the veteran netminder. The Swedish Olympian, who played in 73 of 82 games last season, has appeared in at least 70 contests in all but one of his five NHL seasons.
He is 7-6-2 with a 2.45 GAA versus Buffalo, but has a 3.28 GAA while losing three in a row to the Sabres.
New York will start the season without injured forwards Chris Drury (broken finger) and Vinny Prospal (knee), who combined for 34 goals and 56 assists in 2009-10.
Marian Gaborik will look to build on a stellar first season with the Rangers. He led the team by matching a career high with 42 goals and added a personal-best 44 assists. Gaborik has a goal and four assists in four games at Buffalo.
Free agent acquisition Alexander Frolov will likely join Gaborik on the top line after he recorded 168 goals and 213 assists in seven seasons with Los Angeles. Veteran forward Ruslan Fedotenko should provide depth after making the team during a training camp tryout.
"I'm not going to make predictions, I'm not in that part of the business," Tortorella said. "The group is together, I think we're familiar."
The Rangers went 1-2-1 against the Sabres last season, and have dropped three of four at Buffalo.
Derek Roy scored twice and rookie Tyler Ennis added a pair of assists in Buffalo's 2-1 season-opening win at Ottawa on Friday.
Roy, who has totaled at least 20 goals and 40 assists in four straight seasons, has four goals and eight assists in his last 12 games against the Rangers.
"He's a great player," Ennis said. "As long as I can get it in his hands there's always a chance to score, and that's what happened."
Ryan Miller, who set a single-season franchise record with 41 wins last season, could be back in goal after he stopped 25 shots Friday.
Miller is 11-4-2 with a 2.22 GAA versus New York. He has a 1.65 GAA while winning three in a row against the Rangers.