Well-rested Rangers get back to hard work tonight
• Game Notes
• Zuccarello Earns First Shot at NHL
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight the Rangers play their only game over a span of eight days, which represents the least active stretch on the team’s 2010-11 schedule. And although they will be well-rested, the Rangers will still have their hands full when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning this evening at Madison Square Garden.
More accustomed to the rigorous schedule that has seen the team take part in nine sets of three-games-in-four-nights already this season, the Rangers have gone out of their way to address the fact that the club needs to play as sharp tonight as it has done throughout the initial grueling months of the season.
In fact, after being addressed by head coach John Tortorella at the conclusion of Wednesday’s practice at the MSG Training Center, the players held their own on-ice meeting to make sure that everyone would be ready to go at full-speed and with complete focus this evening against the Lightning.
|Rangers forward Brandon Prust said the Blueshirts vividly remember their 5-3 loss to the Lightning on Nov. 24 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa and are eager to pay them back tonight at The Garden.
“We talked about it on the ice that days off and practices are not the same as constantly playing games like we had been doing,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
, who has started 11 of the past 13 games for the Blueshirts. “Of course, you lose that edge a little bit, but at the same time you have to get up and be ready to be involved right away (tonight). This should not be an excuse. We need to be ready to play.”
Several players have stated that the time off -- the club last played Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia and, after tonight, will not play again until next Monday against the Islanders at MSG -- is going to benefit the Rangers in the long run, helping bumps and bruises heal and letting tired minds and bodies refresh.
However, almost to a man, the Rangers admitted that it’s almost easier to remain geared up for game action when playing on an almost every-other-night basis.
“It’s different because we’ve been so used to after we’ve played getting right back at it the next night or the night after,” said winger Brandon Prust
, who is tied for the league-lead with three shorthanded goals. “But to a get a break, we talked about it out on the ice, we have to make sure that we’re all ready to go and are all mentally focused.”
There is no doubt that the Rangers will have to be on top of their collective game tonight, because the Lightning present quite a formidable opponent. One of the more explosive teams offensively in the league, the Lightning had won four straight before they fell to the Islanders 2-1 overtime on Wednesday, and they currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, just ahead of the seventh-place Rangers.
In addition Tampa Bay has two of the league’s elite point-producers playing at their best right now. Steven Stamkos ranks behind only Sidney Crosby among the league-leaders in goals (26) and points (46), and Martin St. Louis is tied for second in the NHL with 30 assists and is third with 43 points. Plus, the offensively-gifted Vincent Lecavalier has returned to the lineup following a broken hand injury.
“They’re very good offensively and have some very skilled forwards,” Lundqvist said of the Lightning. “Special teams will be big, no question, so we’ll have to be disciplined.”
In their only other meeting with the Lightning so far this year, the Rangers fell behind 5-0 after two periods of play before dropping a 5-3 decision in Tampa. The Lightning scored three power-play goals in that contest as Stamkos produced a three-point night.
|Norwegian rookie Mats Zuccarello, the top player in Sweden's top league last season, will be making his highly-anticipated NHL debut against the Lightning.
“Of course we remember that, they kind of embarrassed us in their barn, so it’s something we don’t like and we hold on to it,” said Prust. “Of course we’d like some revenge.”
To exact some revenge tonight, the Rangers will have to persevere without several of their regular players in the lineup. Marian Gaborik
and Michael Del Zotto
will join the injured Ryan Callahan
and Derek Boogaard
on the sidelines this evening as the Rangers seek their fourth win in the past five games.
Gaborik did not practice on Wednesday because of a sore groin, while Del Zotto also missed practice due to a stomach virus. Tortorella declared both players unable to play for this evening’s contest, where they join Callahan (broken hand) and Boogaard (shoulder and headaches) in being out of the lineup.
To fill out the roster the Rangers recalled Norwegian winger Mats Zuccarello
from the Connecticut Whale, and he will make his NHL debut tonight while Matt Gilroy
replaces Del Zotto on the blueline.
“We have a chance to look at an offensive player who’s playing pretty well right now down in Connecticut, and he’s going to get his opportunity,” Tortorella said of Zuccarello, who has amassed 13 goals and 24 points in 32 games in the AHL this season.
Tortorella pointed out on Wednesday that Zuccarello would be put in situations to maximize his vast array of offensive skills. The 23-year-old Zuccarello led the Swedish Elite League in scoring and was named league MVP a year ago before signing a free agent contract with the Rangers in May. His NHL debut has been highly anticipated by Rangers fans, as well as throughout the organization, ever since he signed with the club and also during his stint in the AHL where he has been growing more accustomed to the North American style of play.
Of course, without two of their top scorers in Gaborik and Callahan in the lineup tonight the Rangers will need a complete team effort -- and not just one player’s success -- in order to overcome the Lightning.
“I think we’ll be fine,” said Tortorella. “It’s a matter of readiness and playing the right way.”