Rangers head coach John Tortorella repeated something last night that he has been subtlely saying more and more often recently: "we are a tired team".
Nine games in 14 days in seven different cities will do that to a team. As will playing a hard-skating in-your-face style, which is the Rangers calling card this season.
Listen, I can see how tired they are. And I can understand it better than most. I mean, shoot, I keep the same travel, practice, and game schedules as the Rangers do, but with one big difference: they play...I report on it. And I am tired, and a bit beat up from this recent grind. So I can only imagine how the players feel.
But yet, even as Tortorella says this about his club, they stick together and battle. And they are a resilient team, much more so than last year. Bad loss in Tampa on Wednesday? No problem, bounce back with a 40-save Henrik Lundqvist shutout last night against the Panthers. Lousy loss in Denver two Fridays ago? Not an issue because they come back with an impressive victory in Minnesota the very next night. Lose two games in a row on a couple different occasions this season? Not going to panic because they are staying away from lengthy losing streaks this year, never losing more than two in a row, so far.
If you are a Rangers fan, this is the type of team you can really throw your arms around and embrace. It is a likable team, both in on-ice and off-ice personality.
"What I really like about this team is how together they are," Tortorella said the other day.
"This team has come together early in the season...we really like each other and get along well and have really gelled together quickly," added forward Brandon Prust, who is not one of the team's stars, but is a vital part of the fabric in the locker room and on the ice.
When Prust scored his first goal of the season last night, the bench erupted with just a dose more excitement than usual. Yes, it was a big goal---the one to ice a 3-0 victory---but it was "Pruster" who scored it, and that meant something to his teammates.
"If you see our bench when he scores, that's the important thing, the cameraderie they feel about him, and each other," explained Tortorella. "Guys pull for him. It's good for him, but for me as a coach, it's good for the team. Crap, he's done a lot of good things for us, and I am happy for him."
Every good and successful team in the National Hockey League has a Brandon Prust on its roster. Trust me on that one. Yes, you need your star players---in the Rangers case Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik---playing their best, but you need other intangibles, as well, in order to achieve success. Prust provides that. Brian Boyle is providing that. Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, and Dan Girardi are stepping up their level of play nad providing more. Derek Stepan is as good a rookie as there is in the NHL this year.
You can see it's coming together for the Rangers. There are going to be some bumps along the way, but it's coming together. You get the feel the team is on the right track. And you get the feel that the Tortorella has established an excellent foundation, and that the players are playing hard for their coach---just as they do for one another.
"Character" is an important word when you speak about a team. And the Rangers are proving they have it. Heck, just check out how they have weathered injuries to four key veterans---Gaborik, Chris Drury, Vinny Prospal, and Michal Rozsival---without major issue already this season.
It is all part of what makes this Rangers team so appealing.
True, they will be in a dogfight all year to secure a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference. No question about that.
But as a Rangers fan, I think you'll at least be able to enjoy this ride more than some other recent ones.
Follow Me On Twitter: @jimcerny and @thenyrangers