Gaborik in wings as Rangers shoot for more scoring
• Game Notes
• Grachev Returned to Hartford
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
When the Rangers take to the ice this evening against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden, Marian Gaborik
will be missing his 12th consecutive game due to a separated shoulder. However it is looking more and more like the Rangers’ top goal-scorer from a year ago won’t be missing many more games before returning to the lineup in the very near future.
Gaborik took part in his first full-contact practice with his teammates on Monday -- the next step in his process of returning to game action. Although a return date is not set, it might take just a few more practices before Gaborik is activated off the Injured Reserve list.
|Rangers forward Alex Frolov sits in front of head coach John Tortorella during a recent home game. Tortorella said he wants Frolov taking shots "from anywhere, even bad-angle shots" to score more.
“I’m just going to take it day-by-day now,” said Gaborik, who led the Blueshirts with 42 goals and a career-high 86 points last season. “I want to make sure that I have a few good practices with the team before I go back, because it’s been a few weeks since I last played. (Monday) was a good day with the boys out there, and I feel pretty good.”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella is trying to temper his enthusiasm about Gaborik’s imminent return because he does not have an actual date yet, but he is clearly aware of what Gaborik’s presence in the lineup will mean to the club.
“He handled himself well (on Monday), so now we’ll put him through his paces conditioning-wise, we’ll have another practice after the Washington game, and then I’ll wait for the trainer to let me know that he’s ready to go in a game,” said Tortorella.
While watching his teammates battle their way to a 7-6-1 record and a second-place standing in the Atlantic Division Gaborik has been very impressed with the overall play of the Rangers, and most important, the club’s scoring depth.
“For sure it’s important because now we have more lines that can score, so other teams really have to pay attention to more guys,” said Gaborik. “It gives us an advantage because now those guys have more confidence. When I come back, it’s going to be fun.”
Ironically, Gaborik made his comments a day after the Rangers’ most recent game, a 2-0 shutout defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues Sunday at The Garden. That game marked the first time this season that the Blueshirts have been held off the scoreboard.
Even so, the Rangers are confident that their offensive game will be back on track tonight, and that more diligent work along the boards, through the neutral zone, and deep in the opposition’s end of the ice will be the keys to lighting the lamp against the Capitals.
“That has to be a big part of our game plan, underneath the hash-marks, but you just can’t rely on jam plays, other things have to happen offensively,” said Tortorella. “We’re concentrating on getting our D involved more in the offense. And we need to get a bit more production other than from the (Artem) Anisimov line.”
|Rangers forward Erik Christensen, who scored the winning goal against Chicago in the team's last victory at MSG on Nov. 1, said the Blueshirts must exert their home-ice advantage and work hard to keep the puck deep in the Capitals' zone tonight.
In particular, Tortorella pointed out that the Rangers need more goal-scoring from veterans Alex Frolov
and Erik Christensen
, who have two goals apiece so far this season.
Regarding Frolov, Tortorella has repeatedly expressed that he is pleased with the Russian winger’s effort, but that the team needs to see some results on the scoreboard, too.
“I want him to take his shot, from anywhere, even bad-angle shots,” said Tortorella. “It can’t always be the same move, going to the backhand on the off-wing like he does a lot and taking it behind the net because teams scout and there are no secrets in this game. You have to change it up, and hopefully something will go in for him, and then he’ll regain some of his confidence.”
Of course, defensive play will be important this evening for the Rangers, as well. The high-powered Caps offense, led by superstar sniper Alex Ovechkin, has scored 47 goals in 14 games, the most in the NHL’s Eastern Conference and second-most in the entire league.
Ovechkin leads the Caps with 18 points, recording eight goals and 10 assists, while Alexander Semin leads the team with nine goals.
“You can’t sit back and try and weather the storm, sometimes the best defense is providing some offensive pressure to keep them in their end,” said Christensen. “They are more of a run-and-gun type team, but we’ve had a lot of success this year keeping the puck low and below the dots in their end, cycling, and then make (the opposition) skate the full 200 feet.”
Washington, which won the Presidents’ Trophy with 121 points a year ago, is currently tied with Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Los Angeles for the overall points lead in the NHL with 20 heading into play tonight.
Last season, the Rangers dropped three of four games to the Capitals, including both played at Madison Square Garden.
Tonight’s contest is the second of four straight for the Rangers on home ice. On Thursday they host the Buffalo Sabres, and on Sunday afternoon the Edmonton Oilers pay a visit to MSG.
“It’s time to build some momentum at home and get some wins in our building,” said Christensen.