Balanced Rangers ready to savor home-ice advantage
• Biron to Start in Goal Tonight
• Annual Coat Drive Begins Tonight
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers are set for a busy Thanksgiving week, although their only dose of home cooking during this four-games-in-six-nights span will come this evening when they host the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden.
Following tonight’s tilt at The Garden, the Rangers take to the road for games against Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Florida on Friday, and Nashville on Saturday. That final game against the Predators will conclude an exhausting stretch of nine games over 14 days in seven different cities.
So far the Rangers are 3-2-0 in the busy nine-game run, following Saturday’s impressive 5-2 victory in Minnesota over the Wild. Five different Rangers scored goals on Saturday, and 12 of the 18 skaters recorded at least one point as the Blueshirts bounced back from Friday’s rough 5-1 defeat in Colorado.
|A year ago, Rangers high-scoring forward Marian Gaborik was one of a small group of players carrying the bulk of the load every night. This season,he gets plenty of supports from others, as the entire roster is factoring into the team's success on a nightly basis.
“There wasn’t one person that was happy with their game (on Friday night),” said goaltender Martin Biron
, who earned the victory with a 25-save effort vs. the Wild. “But we came back (Saturday) and played the kind of road game that we always need to play. We have shown the ability to turn the page and bounce back quickly after tough losses this season.”
By winning on Saturday the Rangers kept alive their perfect record this season in the second games of back-to-backs. The Rangers are 5-0-0 on the back end of games played on consecutive nights so far this year.
“It shows that we are a tough-minded hockey club, and a well-conditioned one, too,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella.
Saturday’s match in Minnesota was the 21st this season played by the Rangers, putting the team a bit more than one-quarter of the way through its 82-game regular season schedule. To date they are 11-9-1 overall, with their 23 points -- good enough for a seventh place standing in the Eastern Conference but just one point behind the three teams currently tied for fourth place.
“It’s a process what we are going through here,” said Tortorella. “It’s far from perfect and there is plenty of work still to be done, but I like our group of guys and I like how they work at it.”
Last season the Rangers were also 11-9-1 after 21 games, although that mark was skewed by the fact that the club started the season by winning seven of its first eight games.
This year’s Rangers’ squad has played on a more consistent level, and it also has received regular contributions from up and down the entire roster. Last year, the Rangers seemed to rely on their top-tier players such as Henrik Lundqvist
and Marian Gaborik
an inordinate amount for any success the team achieved.
“It’s been good to see how different players have stepped up,” said Gaborik. “Especially with all of the guys we have had hurt this year, it’s been important for everyone else to take on more responsibility.”
That certainly was in evidence on Saturday. Defensemen Marc Staal
and Dan Girardi
played monster games at both ends of the ice, while younger defensemen Matt Gilroy
and Michael Sauer
also contributed very solid efforts. Brandon Dubinsky
scored his team-high 12th goal of the season as he and four others not named Marian Gaborik
handled the goal-scoring.
put forth an inspired effort, playing with an extremely painful charley horse that limited his mobility considerably. Derek Boogaard
’s thunderous check led directly to the game’s first goal. And Biron was sharp between the pipes as Lundqvist was given the night off.
|Forward Brandon Prust, who has emerged as one of the Rangers' true heart-and-soul players who reflects the team's new identity, will get his first chance to play against Calgary, the franchise that drafted him into the NHL and later traded him to the Blueshirts.
On top of all this, reinforcements may be arriving sooner rather than later to further bolster the lineup. Veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival
, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury the past six games, has resumed skating and quite possibly could return during the upcoming road trip. Also skating again is team captain Chris Drury
, who might be back in the lineup by early December.
“This group has come together very quickly this season,” said Prust. “I wasn’t here at the start of last season, but I can tell you that this year we are tight group right from the start, and I think that is reflected in our play.”
Tonight the Rangers face the Flames in the only meeting this season between the two teams. It will mark the first time that Prust has faced his former club since Calgary traded him and Olli Jokinen to the Blueshirts on Feb. 2, 2010 in exchange for Ales Kotalik and Christopher Higgins, an extremely successful deal for the Rangers based on Prust’s emergence as a true heart-and-soul player.
Jokinen, who re-signed with Calgary as a free agent this past summer, will not play tonight as he continues to serve a three-game league-mandated suspension.
The Flames, who sit in 14th place in the Western Conference, are in the midst of a grueling road trip in which they will play five games in seven nights. The trip began with an overtime loss on Sunday night in Detroit and continues with stops in New Jersey and Philadelphia before concluding on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
With the Flames’ situation as it is, and the fact that the Rangers go right back on the road themselves following tonight’s game, this evening’s contest is a very important one for a Blueshirt team that is 4-6-1 at The Garden this year.
“We need to play Rangers hockey,” said rookie center Derek Stepan
. “That is we have to take the game to the other team, with guys jumping over the boards shift after shift to control play in the other’s team’s zone.”