Rangers aim for more of the same tonight at Tampa
|Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is expected to make his first start since Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. He said the extra rest and practice time have helped him sharpen his game.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Rangers open up a three-game road trip against The Tampa Bay Lightning -- a team that is having a very similar season to the Blueshirts.
The Rangers, who have won two straight and five of their last seven, own a 12-9-1 record and 25 points through 22 games. The Lightning have won four consecutive games and are 12-7-2, one better than the Rangers with 26 points and one fewer game played
Needless to say, the opener of this road trip shapes up to be quite the battle for the Rangers.
“This is going to be a tough game, no doubt, so it’s going to be imperative that we stick with our strength, which is to keep the puck down low with our forecheck and wear them down,” said defenseman Steve Eminger
The game plan Eminger referred to not only plays to the Rangers’ strength, but it will be imperative to succeed with that style because it will help limit how often Tampa’s goal-scoring machine, Steven Stamkos, has the puck on his stick, or at the very least in which part of the ice he is first receiving the puck.
Stamkos, the 20 year-old who tied for the league-lead with 51 goals last season, already has an NHL-best 20 this season to go along with a league-leading 35 points.
“He can do things that other players can’t do with the puck at such a high speed,” Eminger said of Stamkos. “He comes at you full-speed whether he has the puck or not, and he’s shifty. He’s put himself into a category in this league where he is one of the tops. We have to make sure we don’t give him time to go from one end to the other. We have to be physical on him.”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella will likely use his top defensive pair of Marc Staal
and Dan Girardi
as often as possible against Stamkos’ line, which also includes speedy scorer Martin St. Louis, who himself is currently ranked third in the league in points with 27.
Staal and Girardi are coming off a stout defensive performance in the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden on Monday night -- a contest that saw the pair help control Calgary’s elitescorer Jarome Iginla. Although Iginla did score once, it came off a breakdown up ice by the Blueshirts which resulted in a 3-on-1 Flames rush and an easy goal for Iginla.
|Rangers defenseman Steve Eminger says that the Blueshirts can go a long way toward shutting down Tampa Bay scoring sensation Steven Stamkos just by exhibiting the style of play that has become their trademark through the first quarter of the season.
“I am pretty happy with how we handled (Iginla) even though he had a couple pretty good chances there in the third period, but it’s hard to keep great players off the scoresheet or from getting chances,” said Girardi. “As for Stamkos, he’s a little different player, but he makes great plays so you have get your stick in the way and use your body against him, too. You have to be hard on him all night.”
Strong goaltending will also be a necessity against the offensively-gifted Lightning tonight. After watching Martin Biron
start and star in the past two games -- victories against the Wild and the Flames -- Henrik Lundqvist
is expected to be back between the pipes this evening. Lundqvist’s most recent start was last Friday, when he surrendered three goals before being pulled in an eventual 5-1 loss at Colorado.
Despite the fact that Biron has played superbly -- stopping 56 of 59 shots -- over the past two games Tortorella has adamantly declared that there is no goalie competition with the Rangers. Instead he flatly said that Lundqvist is the unquestioned No. 1 goaltender and that the Blueshirts are very fortunate to have two very reliable veterans in goal.
“Hank has been inconsistent, and he realizes that, so it’s a good thing that we have a back-up that has played well giving us the chance to give Henrik two more solid days of practice before playing against Tampa,” said Tortorella.
Lundqvist has said that while his desire is to play all of the time, he realizes the benefits of working with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire on the days Biron has been the starting goalie for the Rangers.
“It’s not a big deal,” Lundqvist said of backing up Biron the past two games. “This gives me time to work on my game here a little bit with Benny. But what I need to do is to make better decisions. Two bad decisions in a game can mean two bad goals. So I have to be better with that.”
Following this evening’s game, the Rangers head to South Florida where they will skate against the Panthers on Friday night. From there they travel to Nashville, where a date with the Predators awaits on Saturday.