Rangers look to get back in the saddle tonight
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Tortorella's Pregame Remarks from Today
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
When the Rangers return to action this evening with a contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden, the club will be looking to improve on its recent play and get back on the winning side of the ledger.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella believes that there is only one way his team can accomplish those goals.
|Rookie center Artem Anisimov was among the players Rangers head coach John Tortorella praised this weekend for his performance in recent games.
“It’s a miserable time for us, but you have to stay with it and keep on coming to work and try to fight your way through it,” Tortorella said of his club, which has dropped two in a row and four-of-five, scoring just eight goals in those four defeats. “The only way I know how to get out of this, and the team has to stay together, is we have to have little bit of resiliency here through a tough time.”
Tortorella has repeatedly stated that the effort has been there on the part of his players, but crucial on-ice mistakes, poorly-timed penalties, and lapses in the team’s overall play have been the undoing for the Rangers over the past several weeks.
“We need to tighten things up,” said the head coach. “And we need to be stronger on the puck. That’s the most important thing, I think, because we are a better team when we have the puck and are strong on the forecheck.”
The head coach did think that the Rangers were better on the forecheck for much of Saturday’s 3-2 home-ice loss to the Florida Panthers. He mentioned Sean Avery
-- who recorded a season-high five shots on goal -- as one of the players who played a strong game in this area, and praised the lines centered by Christopher Higgins and Artem Anisimov
However, despite some offensive improvements, the Rangers were held to two goals or fewer for the eighth time in the last 10 games. And yet again it was left to Marian Gaborik
(his team-high 16th goal) and Vinny Prospal
(one goal and one assist) to do the scoring. That pair has scored the Rangers’ last five goals.
It is primarily this scoring drought that Tortorella says his team must battle through and not succumb to.
“I think you need a little check-up every once in a while during the year when things start to get away from you,” said Higgins. “You have slides at different times of the year, and you need to get back to the basics and go over what makes your team click.”
Higgins is part of a group of Rangers that Tortorella has stated needs to pick up the scoring slack, even while being praised by the head coach for their overall effort on a nightly basis.
Another one of those important players is alternate captain Ryan Callahan
, who, after a breakout 22-goal campaign a year ago, has just three goals and seven points so far this season. Callahan has not recorded a point in five games, and is just 1-1-2 in the past 13.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him, but it’s certainly not through lack of effort,” Tortorella said of Callahan. “It hasn’t worked for him, but I think he is strong enough mentally, and we are going to try and help him through it here. But his effort is there, so hopefully it’ll start coming.”
One very bright sign for the Rangers is the fact that team captain Chris Drury
was able to return to the ice this past weekend for the first time since suffering a concussion on Nov. 7 in Calgary.
Though not nearly ready for a return to game action, Drury skated on his own Saturday morning for 30 minutes before the rest of the team took part in the morning skate. He went on to fully participate in practice on Sunday -- his first such action since the injury -- and could be back in the lineup by the end of this week.
Tonight’s opponent, the Blue Jackets, had won three straight and five-of-six, before dropping a 4-3 shootout decision to the Nashville Predators on Saturday night. That loss also snapped Columbus’ three-game winning streak on the road. This evening they open up a three-game road trip.
The Rangers will face another of the league’s elite players tonight as Rick Nash leads the Blue Jackets into The Garden. A two-time 40-goal scorer before his 25th birthday, Nash is currently fifth in the NHL with 14 goals, ninth with 25 points, and first with a pair of shorthanded scores.
While Tortorella does not believe in matching lines in order to try and shut down a top-end talent like Nash, likely the defense pair of Marc Staal
and Dan Girardi
will be on the ice against Nash much of tonight. Coming off a strong game against Florida, Staal is eager to raise his level of play.
“When you are playing against the top guys, they can burn you just like that,” noted Staal. “I have to make sure that the defensive side of my game is not lacking, and I have to be careful where I pick my spots to go offensively. It’s a balancing act that I am still working on.”
After tonight’s contest the Rangers embark on a three-game road trip, beginning with a return tilt against the Panthers down in Florida on Wednesday night. After a night off on Thanksgiving, the Blueshirts skate in Tampa Bay against the Lightning on Friday and in Pittsburgh against the Penguins on Saturday.