The Rangers' Rough Ride

Their Down, Briefly Up, and then Down Again Season

"We have a sufficient number of guys who excel at the cycling game," says Muckler, noting that Gretzky's play with the puck behind the net is one of the great cycling weapons of all time. "Where we really have a problem is we're not a great rush team, because we don't have the greatest speed. So we have to get better cycling. We have to be patient, and we have to try to shut the opposition down."

The minicamp prepped them for a critical five game stretch, including a four-game road trip, which ends Saturday in St. Louis. "If we can split those four, I'd be very happy," Muckler says. It would leave them close to .500 with a favorable January stretch ahead—seven of nine games at home—and something to build upon.

But last Wednesday, in the final home game before Christmas break and the road trip, Carolina blanked them 1-0. The Rangers played better defensively but, with lines reconfigured and Harvey out with an injury, generated little offensively. Afterward, Muckler is downcast. Asked if he will again re vise his forward lines for the return match in North Carolina, he says, "I'm just going to go home and have a merry Christmas and think about it after that."

Don't Muck it up: Muckler coaches the Great One
AP / Wide World
Don't Muck it up: Muckler coaches the Great One

Three nights later, Muckler goes back to the combinations that won five straight—seldom-used Sean Pronger in Harvey's spot—and the Rangers score six second-period goals, erasing a 1-0 deficit, confidently controlling the same team they could do nothing against at the Garden. Pronger gets two key assists.

And the roller coaster that has been the Rangers' season lurches toward the new year.

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