You were thinking it as the Rangers boarded their Europe-bound jet. It was a lesson in how not to run a team, a proof that the core of a team can't be replaced in one season. You were smug or worried, depending on your team loyalties, that the end of the Jagr era in New York was premature and would be extremely detrimental.
The Rangers were also worried. They managed on 2 goals in every single preseaon game, and emerged victorious in only one of them. Even moving Drury to the top line while dropping Zherdev to the second did not prevent a whooping at the hands of the Devils. It seemed that it would be 2007-08 all over again. Talent on paper but lack thereof on the ice.
Perhaps they needed some confidence. Maybe the belief in the line combinations, in the system and in themselves was the cure for Rangers' ills. It certainly looked that way after the Rangers offense clicked against the inferior European teams and pulled out 12 goals and 2 wins from the matchups. Drury-Gomez-Naslund seemed golden and the Power Play had more power than it did all of last season. But Europe's best is certainly not NHL level, you critics were saying. The Rangers needed to score more goals against the 29 teams in America to prove anything. You were wrong.
Two goals. Two goals. The pattern continued against Tampa Bay, but it certainly was a huge stepping stone for the Rangers. Often goal counts are misleading, and scoring chances, if not shots, are more indicative of level of play. 80-40, not 4-2, was the stat to be taken from the European trip. They not only outshot the Lightning, but outchanced them by a large margin as well. If not for the stellar play of goalies Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig, these games would not have been so close. The Power Play produced two goals, and the first line produced the other two. The entire team, starting with Chris Drury and ending with Colton Orr, produced so many "oooooh" moments that Prague officials felt compelled to issue Pepto Bismol to the games' audience. While last season the shot totals were also high and goals remained low, the scoring chances were limited for the Rangers. Now, the chemistry to move the puck through the neutral zone and to work it effectively in the offensive zone was strong. The Power Play was given a new look and new life, as Jagr fending off checkers with his large rear end no longer took up the time that Rozsival wan't passong up open shots. There was puck movement, player movement, unpredictability. Of course, King Henrik returned to form after a shaky preseason. And this gives more hope to the Rangers since they had a one goal lead with 7.8 seconds left against Buffalo in 2007.
As the season progresses and players become more comfortable with themselves and their teammates, more of those chances will find the back of the net. as long as the chances are being produced, things will look up. With the Rangers stellar defense and goaltending, 3 goals is almost always enough to get at least one point out of a game. And now that chemistry is great, a division title doesn't seem like such a stretch.