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Rebuilding Rangers eye modest goals, not deep playoff run
By VIN A. CHERWOO
NEW YORK (AP) Fully into rebuilding, the New York Rangers aren't thinking about a deep playoff run. They simply want to get better.
The Rangers are coming off a year in which they dealt several stars at the trade deadline, finished last in the Metropolitan Division and missed the postseason for the first time in eight years.
They made a coaching change after the season, hiring David Quinn from Boston University to lead a younger team that has some veterans. Quinn, a Colorado Avalanche assistant in the lockout-shortened 2013 season who also coached in the AHL, is implementing a more up-tempo game.
"We want to come to the rink every day and be the best team we can possibly be," Quinn said. "Make every player better on a daily basis, and if you do that, we'll be better collectively and the winning and losing takes care of itself."
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose first season in New York since signing as a free agent in 2017 was limited to five goals and 18 assists in 46 games because of a knee injury, has already noticed the difference.
"We're a quicker team," he said. "We want to get pucks moving up the ice quickly."
The players have talked about how hard the practices have been under the new coach, and how that will help them.
"It's been very strict lines of how we want to play and how we want to practice," center Mika Zibanejad said. "The way we want to play that's how we have been practicing and try to get those habits in."
The Rangers still have several veteran stars, led by the 25-year-old Zibanejad, who is entering his eighth season in the league, and fellow forwards Chris Kreider, Matz Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, defenseman Marc Staal and goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Last year's poor finish came after a run in which they made the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, including one trip to the Stanley Cup Final (2014) and two other appearances in the conference finals (2012, 2015). And while experts aren't giving them much of a chance, the Rangers aren't ready to write off the season, though they are not looking too far ahead.
"The focus right now is just the start," Lundqvist said. "But we do have a lot of skill in the room, I see that. And a lot of hungry players. That's a good combination."
Some other things to know as the Rangers head into the new season:
Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil, the team's first round selections in the 2017 draft as teenagers, are expected to lead the youth movement.
Both centers could make the team after playing fewer than 10 games last season, with one of them possibly seeing time on the wing.
The 36-year-old Lundqvist is coming off a season in which he went 26-26-7 with a 2.98 goals-against average - the highest of his career. It was also just the second time he finished with fewer than 30 wins; the other was the lockout-shortened 2012-13, when he was 24-16-3.
Lundqvist feels he is in good shape, with his weight down to around 182 pounds after being around 200 for many years previously. Neither he nor Quinn wants to put a target on the number of games the goalie will play.
"We're both on the same page there," Quinn said. "To me, it's game by game, reading the situation."
After finding themselves short on depth in the middle last season following the offseason trade that sent Derek Stepan to Arizona, the Rangers appear to be in better shape this year.
Staying healthy will be key after a litany of injuries last season.
Zibanejad was out for about 10 games with a concussion last November. He had 11 goals and 11 assists in 22 games before the injury and finished the season with 20 goals and 27 assists.
Kreider missed two months after a rib was removed to help alleviate a blot clot in his right arm. Shattenkirk had season-ending knee injury in January, and Zuccarello and Lundqvist both dealt with an injured knee all season.
Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP
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Updated September 25, 2018