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By Matt Canamucio, NHL Editor

(Sports Network) - The good news for the New York Rangers in 2005-06 was that the team advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The bad news is that they disgracefully bowed out in the first round against the rival New Jersey Devils.

So the quest for this season? Win at least a round.

The Rangers weren't overly busy this summer, but the moves they did make were key. Brendan Shanahan brings his winning pedigree to the Big Apple after a tenure in Detroit that saw him win three Stanley Cups. Aaron Ward and Matt Cullen are both fresh off winning the chalice with Carolina, and Adam Hall is a young power forward who can give you between 15 and 20 goals from the third line.

It's no coincidence that three of the four acquisitions above bring championship experience with them, a season after the Rangers flopped when things mattered most. It wasn't just the playoffs that left a bad taste in New York's mouth, but the club was below par for much of the post-Olympic slate.

Of course, the newcomers to the team will have to learn to play around superstar Czech Jaromir Jagr, who re-asserted himself as an all-world scorer last season. Jagr tallied 54 goals and 69 assists -- leading the league in helpers and finishing second in tallies and points.

The team also found a starting goaltender in rookie Henrik Lundqvist. The Olympic gold medalist went 30-12-9 with a 2.24 goals-against average in 53 appearances and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

All-in-all, the Rangers are after their second straight playoff berth following a lengthy drought. But something hints that merely qualifying for the postseason won't quite be good enough this time around.

FORWARDS - Jagr had his best season in quite some time, reaching the 100-point mark for the first time since 2000-01. His monster effort including a career- high 24 power-play goals, as the former Hart Trophy winner fit in nicely with the NHL's new look.

Jagr was the team's lone 40-goal producer last season, but Shanahan achieved the feat with the Red Wings. In fact, Shanahan, now 37, hit the 40 mark for the first time since 1999-2000 and played in all 82 regular season games.

Michal Nylander has always been one of the league's under-rated set-up man, and he flourished as Jagr's centerman. Martin Straka, meanwhile, tallied 22 goals and 54 assists on the other side of the top line.

A giant wild card for the Blueshirts is sophomore forward Petr Prucha, who finished with 30 goals in 68 games last season. Prucha's talent can only get him so far, however, as he must work on his consistency. He managed only five goals in the final 22 games of the regular season.

Cullen, meanwhile, quietly netted 25 goals for the Hurricanes a season ago, and he will check in as the second-line center. He often plays the point on the power play as well, and scored eight of his 25 markers with the man- advantage.

DEFENSE - When things were going on all cylinders for the Rangers early last season, the root of the success was strong blueline play. Leading the way were a pair of newcomers, Marek Malik and Michal Rozsival.

Rozsival, who was a decent player in four seasons with Pittsburgh, posted five goals and 25 assists in 82 games last season. However, he also tied for the NHL's top plus-minus rating with a +35.

Malik, meanwhile, was one of the more underrated acquisitions during the busy 2005 offseason. He became a true anchor with the Rangers, after playing in the shadow of Ed Jovanovski while in Vancouver.

Darius Kasparaitis is what he is, and that's a fierce hitter who injects energy every time he jumps over the boards. Ward, meanwhile, is a terrific presence on the blueline and can do everything from blocking shots to killing penalties. Don't expect flash here, but for a depth guy on your third pairing he fits the bill.

As is the case up front with Prucha, the Rangers have a wild card on defense as well. Fedor Tyutin is 23-years-old and logged his first full NHL season in 05-06. This kid can do it at both ends of the ice, but must improve the little things as a second-year player.

GOALTENDING - Lundqvist wasn't the starter entering last season, but an injury to veteran Kevin Weekes opened the door and it stayed that way. In fairness to him, when things began unraveling late in the season he was dealing with a hip injury.

However, for most of the regular season and at the Olympics, this kid looked like a veteran as opposed to a Swede playing in his first North American campaign. The tools he displayed and the fact that he kept it up all season earned him the benefit of the doubt.

Weekes is back as the veteran presence, after going 14-14-3 with a 2.95 goals- against average in 32 appearances.

http://146.145.120.3/default.asp?c=hockeynews&page=nhl/news/ADN4041569.htm
 
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