Rangers set for some hockey in The Rockies tonight
• Game Notes
• MSG.com Preview: Scouting the Avalanche
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
As they head out west for a pair of road games in Colorado and Minnesota, the Rangers find themselves in the midst of one of their busiest stretches of the season. Beginning with last Sunday’s home game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Rangers play nine games over 14 days in a total of seven different cities.
That exhausting stretch of hockey continues this evening in Denver when the Blueshirts skate against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.
“You see the schedule, and see all of the blue and red shaded areas for the home and away games, so you see what’s coming,” said defenseman Dan Girardi
. “But it’s the same old cliché really, take it one game at a time. If you look too far ahead, you might try and hold back a little bit. But it’s important to give everything you have every game then get some rest and get back at it again the next game.”
|Defenseman Dan Girardi said one of the keys to the Blueshirts' success has been off-ice conditioning and how players have paced themselves during the season. Such tactics will be helpful when the team deals with the effects of altitude at Denver tonight.
The training staff has prepared the players for such a rigorous schedule. And the coaching staff makes sure that the proper amount of days off is given the players so that they remain as fresh as possible for their games.
“It’s a matter of taking care of yourself,” said Girardi. “After games make sure you are eating something pretty decent, get everything back that you lost and drink a lot of water. And it’s a matter of making sure you get your rest. Torts does a great job looking ahead at the schedule and seeing where we need days off.”
It is also the job of head coach John Tortorella to effectively dole out ice-time during a stretch like this when the Rangers play so many games in such a short span of time. Tortorella’s job is to win games, but he also needs to make sure players do not burn out by over-use.
The players need to do their part, as well, in this area. For example it is imperative that the fourth line and third defensive pair prove effective with extra minutes so that the coaching staff is comfortable in assigning them more ice time than usual.
To that end, Tortorella has been pleased with the play of his two young defensemen, Michael Sauer
and Matt Gilroy
, on the third defensive pairing.
“We play quite a few games here in the next couple weeks of this month so guys are going to have to step up and play,” said Tortorella. “The more minutes we can give them, and they excel, the better we are going to be as a hockey club.”
With veteran Michal Rozsival
still sidelined due to an injured shoulder, the Rangers’ defensive depth has been tested even more during this busy part of the schedule. While Sauer and Gilroy have stepped up to accept more responsibility, so, too, has Steve Eminger
who has been bumped from the third defensive pair to the second, with his ice-time jumping on average around seven minutes per game.
In Monday’s overtime victory in Pittsburgh Eminger logged more than 26 minutes -- a season-high -- and played a strong two-way game, leading the club with five blocked shots.
“(Eminger) has really improved his play,” said Tortorella. “And he has brought a real physical presence to the lineup.”
The Rangers enter tonight’s game having won three of their last four games overall following Wednesday’s 3-2 home-ice loss to the Bruins. They have also won two straight on the road and are 6-2-0 away from Madison Square Garden this season, where they will play five of their next six games.
“We’ve had some good success on the road, but we just want to play a consistent game whether we are at home or on the road,” explained Tortorella.
This evening’s contest is the second of two meetings between the Rangers and Avalanche this season. The Avs skated to a 3-1 win over the Blueshirts at MSG back on Oct. 18.
The Rangers’ lone visit to Colorado last year was a resounding success, as Marian Gaborik
recorded a hat trick and rookie Chad Johnson
starred in goal as they bested the Avalanche 3-1 on Jan. 31, 2010. That win was the Rangers’ first in Colorado since New Year’s Eve in 1998.
Two of Gaborik’s 11 career hat tricks have been notched against the Avalanche. The Slovakian sniper also enters tonight’s game on a roll having scored four goals in his previous three games.
“I feel good right now,” said Gaborik, who returned to the lineup on Nov. 11 from a separated shoulder. “I am getting chances and they are going in for me.”
Following tonight’s game, the Rangers head straight to Minnesota where they will skate against the Wild on Saturday night, with Gaborik and Derek Boogaard
slated to face their former club for the first time each after signing with the Blueshirts as free agents.