BLUESHIRTS LOOKING FOR GREAT EIGHT TONIGHT
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Tortorella Pregame Remarks to Reporters
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Riding a seven-game winning streak, and owners of a sterling 7-1-0 record so far this season, the Rangers have equaled the best eight-game start in franchise history, which was previously achieved in 1983-84. Tonight, the Rangers will look to continue their roll as they host the San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden.
This evening’s contest will be a key early-season test for the Rangers, as well as an opportunity to raise the team’s overall level of play, which head coach John Tortorella and the players believe may have sagged ever so slightly in Saturday’s 4-1 road victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Wednesday’s 4-2 Garden triumph over the Los Angeles Kings.
|Marian Gaborik has led the way for the Rangers on offense, averaging a remarkable 1.5 points per game. Head coach John Tortorella says Gaborik's scoring prowess so far is exactly "why we got him."
“Obviously that’s a good team coming in here and it’s going to be tough for us,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan
following Sunday’s practice. “I don’t think in Toronto we played the way we wanted to play, and we kind of got away with it a bit. A team like San Jose, you can’t get away with those things. This is a bit of a measuring stick and let’s us know where we are with the other elite teams in this league.”
Chief among the concerns of the coaching staff and the players is the fact that the Rangers did not control the puck and dictate the overall play the past couple of games as much as they had been able to earlier in the winning streak.
The amount -- and types -- of penalties the team has taken in recent games is also of some concern, although the outstanding play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
and the club’s penalty killers have covered some of that up.
“We have talked about it quite a bit the past two games,” said Tortorella. “You’re going to go through these concentration problems and momentum swings, but we’re trying to keep as much momentum on our side, and keep trying to go up this way, before we do end up with a bump. And I believe the team understands that.”
Of course as Tortorella tries to improve certain areas of his team’s collective game, the Rangers have continued to do many positive things during the two-week winning streak.
Just as it is with any successful team, the goaltending has been superb for the Rangers. Lundqvist has six wins on the season, and has recorded 34 saves in each of his last two starts. His goals-against average is down to 2.15, while his save percentage is an impressive .932.
Lundqvist’s back-up, Steve Valiquette, has made one start, and earned a shutout in a 3-0 win over the Anaheim Ducks last Sunday. As such, the Rangers have surrendered fewer than two goals per game on average, yielding just 15 in eight matches so far this season.
And at the other end of the ice, the Rangers are averaging four goals per game -- 32 in the eight games. They have scored four or more goals in four of their last five matches.
“The difference this year is that even though we have played some tight games early on, we’ve been able to pull away because we are getting contributions from everyone on offense,” said Lundqvist.
The chief contributor on offense has been Marian Gaborik
right from Day One of the season. Gaborik has recorded at least one point in all eight games this season, and he leads the Rangers with six goals and 12 points.
“That’s why we got him,” Tortorella said of Gaborik. “He is a dynamic player.”
All aspects of the Rangers’ game will be put to the test this evening against a Sharks squad that won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top regular-season club a year ago, and then added the dangerous sniper Dany Heatley in a trade with Ottawa this summer.
Though only a modest 4-3-1 to open up the 2009-10 season, San Jose is an elite-level team featuring world-class players throughout the lineup, including Heatley, goalie Evgeni Nabokov, and forwards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Solid defensively, and with perhaps the deepest group of forwards in the entire league, the Sharks will present many challenges for the Rangers tonight.
“If we’re not doing what we have to do, and we’re not focused, creating turnovers for example, they have the guys on that team to make us pay for it,” said Callahan. “I think we have to get back to the way we want to play. And with a team like San Jose coming in it makes you do that in a quick hurry because if you don’t you’re going to pay for it.”
While the Rangers were beating the Maple Leafs 4-1 on Saturday night on goals by Brandon Dubinsky
, Marc Staal
, Michael Del Zotto
, and Enver Lisin, the Sharks were skating to a 4-1 road win against the Islanders the same night. Thornton turned in another big performance with a goal and two assists.
San Jose will be playing its third game of a six-game road trip tonight. Already this season the Sharks have played five games (2-3-0) away from home.
The Rangers, meanwhile, will be looking to remain undefeated on home ice. In four games played at The Garden so far this year, the Rangers have outscored the opposition 19-6 in winning all four. Should the Rangers win again tonight, they would have their first five-game home winning streak to open a season since the 1990-91 set the Blueshirts record with a string of eight straight home victories to open the season.
Following tonight’s contest, the Rangers play another home game, hosting the New Jersey Devils on Thursday evening, before traveling up to Montreal to face off with the Canadiens on Saturday night.