Challenges await Rangers early

GREENBURGH, N.Y.-- With a travel-intensive preseason and grueling start to the regular season, the New York Rangers will be faced with several challenges early in their 2011-12 campaign.

The first day of training camp was no different.

As tradition has dictated ever since coach John Tortorella's arrival, the Rangers opened camp in the most jarring way possible: without pucks.

The dreaded skating test -- three laps of timed sprints, six times total -- left several players with pained grimaces, gasping for air.

"I tried to do the best I can, but I think I was doubled over and panting," said recently named captain Ryan Callahan. "I think everyone was."

Newcomer Mike Rupp, who was signed this summer as an unrestricted free agent, looked relieved after he finished.

"I made it," Rupp said. "It lived up to expectations. It was difficult."

The skating drill -- which was followed with off-ice testing and a conditioning run -- is used as a gauge for the coaching staff to assess not only a player's fitness level, but also his commitment to the team.

"It's a big part of finding out what we have in an athlete," Tortorella said.

After their first three exhibition games, the Rangers will spend the rest of the preseason, and then some, playing overseas in Europe.

Following stops in Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland, the team will open the regular season in Stockholm, Sweden, with back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

Once they return Stateside from their whirlwind European jaunt, they'll play one game against the New York Islanders before embarking on a four-game trip to Western Canada.

The team, whose schedule was affected by the massive renovations being done at Madison Square Garden, won't play their home opener until Oct. 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Callahan said it's an issue that's already been addressed internally.

"It's going to be tough," Callahan said. but it's an obstacle we're prepared for and ready to overcome."

The burdensome travel schedule is less than ideal, but the Rangers don't want to use it as an excuse.

"A lot of things can bring a team down," feisty winger Brandon Prust said. "But we think this is going to bring us closer together."