I know it may seem a bit unusual to write a New York Rangers season preview two games into the 2011/2012 season, but the Rangers are a very unusual team – as any diehard Blueshirts fan will tell you.

The start of the season ends a whirlwind summer that saw Glen Sather’s under-the-radar pursuit of Brad Richards pay off. It also ends an off-season filled with tragedy as the Rangers family lost Derek Boogaard, Alexander Karpovtsev, Karel Rachunek, and Jan Marek.

The Richards’ signing goes beyond finding a center for Marian Gaborik and solving the Rangers power play woes. Richards brings a veteran presence who knows how Coach John Tortorella operates.

“To see how Torts operates, I know it works,” Richards relayed to Chuck Gormley in 2011/2012 Sporting News Hockey Yearbook. “It reminds me of what we did in Tampa. At the end of the day, it’s the right fit for me.”

While Richards knows what to expect from the coach, Tortorella knows what the Conn Smythe Trophy winner brings to the team.

“We’ve got guys on the cusp of learning what they need to do as a pro,” the coach explained to Gormley. “Forget about what the stats are. Mentoring and teaching kids to be a pro – I think that’s going to be very important. He fits the bill there.”

Just when everything seemed to be getting back to normal as the Rangers hit the ice, the Marc Staal Saga came to the forefront. Questions still swirl as to whether or not Staal is suffering from post-concussion syndrome or if there is some other physical ailment that is causing his symptoms.

As we have seen with the problems Sidney Crosby has had recovering from his post-concussion problems, Staal’s return is an open-ended proposition.

Staal’s situation caused a butterfly effect that saw Tim Erixon’s seasoning in the AHL put on hold, the Rangers claiming of defenseman Jeff Woywitka off waivers and, perhaps in the most talked about move in years, the waiving and demotion of Sean Avery to the Connecticut Whale.

The Internet was afire with the talk of Avery’s demotion with half the fans content to be done with Avery’s antics and half being upset that Avery was kicked to the curb in favor of Erik Christensen.

The pro-Avery faction railed against Tortorella’s dislike for all things Avery – which began back during Avery’s “sloppy seconds” days when Torts was a broadcaster. Contrary to the belief of Avery’s fans, Tortorella is not the first coach, nor will he be the last, to “run off” a player because of personality conflicts.

Taking a step back and looking at the move with an objective eye, the decision really wasn’t so much Avery over Christensen. It was Michael Rupp and Wojtek Wolski over Avery. Rupp replaces the physical presence that Avery (and Boogaard) brought while Wolski’s $3.8 million salary means the Rangers could not afford to keep Avery’s nearly $2 million contract as a bench player – while Christensen’s $925,000 salary is much more manageable from the press box.

The Rangers will remain a team in flux until Staal returns to the lineup on a permanent basis and until Tortorella finds a LW for Richards and Gaborik. During their two game trip to Europe, Torts tried everyone but Martin Biron on their wing. He even broke up his two star forwards in an attempt to find some offense.

This search for offense is one that is going to continue throughout the season unless they improve two parts of their game. Obviously, the Rangers moribund power play continued to rear its ugly head in Europe as they went zero for eight.

All the talk of need a QB for the power play or anointing Richards as the savior of the man advantage means nothing until the Rangers start stationing a man in front of the net and raining shots ON goal (not at goal or near the goal).

Without that man parked at the top of the crease (thus tying up one of the penalty killers), the Rangers power play is content to work the perimeter – which would be fine of you had Al MacInnis and Bobby Hull firing howitzers from the point.

Last year the Rangers finished with 233 goals, good for 16th in the NHL. Their power play was ranked 18th in the NHL (16.9%). If the Rangers could have manage even seven more PP goals last year, they would have finished with a Top Ten PP and, in the right situations, could have added a few more points – thus allowing the Rangers some breathing room in terms of making the playoffs.

Another way the Rangers can generate some offense is to pick up their forechecking – a part of their game that was almost as inconsistent as their PP. The Rangers have the type of forwards who excel at a putting pressure on the forecheck when they are focused at pinning their opponents.

The Blueshirts goal (pun intended) should be to add 13 goals to their total of last season. That would boost the team to 246 goals for an average of three goals per game. That might not seem like a lot, but only seven teams score that many goals and Buffalo finished with 245.

We are now entering the Foxwoods Final Five paragraphs ?

The 2010/2011 Rangers were road warriors last season which was very important given that they had the fewest amount of home points for any playoff team, as both Carolina and New Jersey had more than New York’s 44 and Toronto tied them.

With Madison Square Garden’s renovations keeping the Rangers on the road until the 8th game of the season on October 27 – including a four-game/eight-day Western Conference trip – the Blueshirts will have to convert last year’s success to this year. However, a quirk in the schedule will require the Rangers to turn the refurbished Garden into a Garden of Nightmares for opponents.

Both of the Rangers games in Europe were counted as road games while the Anaheim and Buffalo were “charged” with one home games and Los Angeles lost two home games because, as Andrew Gross of The Record reported, the Kings owner AEG owns the arenas in Stockholm and Berlin. Yet another plus that Gross points out is that the Rangers will not have to make a California trip this season.

With expectations high for the Rangers, Sather and Tortorella are not going to be as forgiving to players who are not producing. The one thing the Rangers learned from the Traverse City Prospects Tournament is that the organization has young talent in the AHL that can come up to New York and make an impact.

The team has shown that they are not afraid to bury contracts in the AHL (Avery and Wade Redden) or buy out ineffective players (Chris Drury). With the team searching for a LW for Richards and Gaborik, and the possibility of needing an impact blueliner to take Staal’s place, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Wolski hits the Connecticut shuttle – thus freeing up his salary cap space – while someone like Ryan Bourque or Carl Hagelin gets a chance to be this season’s Derek Stepan.

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