Rangers bring 2010 mindset into new year tonight
• Game Notes
• Christensen Out Four to Six Weeks
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
After closing out calendar year 2010 on a 5-1-1 run, the Rangers kick off 2011 tonight by playing on the first day of the new year against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum. While the year is new, the Rangers’ approach to tonight’s game remains the same as it has been all season.
“Our biggest concern every game is us,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “I’m not too concerned about other stuff around us. I want us to focus on our game. That’s what we are trying to do every game, and will continue to do moving forward.”
The Rangers have won both games they have played since the Christmas break, a 7-2 home victory over the Islanders last Monday and a 3-1 road win against the Devils on Wednesday. Although happy with the four points his team grabbed in winning two games in a row, Tortorella knows his club needs to put forth a solid 60 minutes tonight against a Lightning team that is currently sitting atop the Southeast Division with 49 points.
|Forward Brian Boyle's remarkable contribution to the Rangers' success so far in 2010-11 has drawn constant praise from head coach John Tortorella and have quite possibly made him the NHL's single most improved player compared to last season.
In each of their last two games, the Rangers were forced to overcome slow starts before regaining their collective footing. On Wednesday, the Rangers leaned heavily on Henrik Lundqvist
’s brilliance in goal before rallying for their league-high 13th road win of the season.
“Torts knows he doesn’t need to come in and yell and scream when we don’t have the start we would like,” said center Brian Boyle
. “We know how to play. We’ve been together a while, the core group and our leadership, and we can take ownership of it ourselves. And that’s what we’ve been doing, and as a result even when we are not at our best, we are able to regroup and pull out some wins.”
Boyle, 26, has become a big part of the Rangers’ core this season. After playing in 71 games a year ago as a fourth-liner, and an effective penalty killer, playing limited minutes per game, Boyle has emerged as a solid two-way performer for the Rangers.
After never having scored more than four goals in a single NHL season, Boyle is second on the team with 14 already this season. He also ranks fourth on the club with a career-best 22 points.
Just as important, Boyle is now trusted by his head coach to play in all the significant game situations, whether it be an offensive situation, defensive situation, or a key faceoff.
“Boyle has assumed the responsibility of who he has become as a player,” said Tortorella. “He’s been good for some time here, and this is what we consider him to be now. He’s a guy I can use in all situations. To me it’s not about the goals, that’s gravy. I just think he has done so many other things that are so important for this team.”
Speaking after practice Friday afternoon in Tampa, Tortorella once again stressed that Boyle’s line with Brandon Prust
and Ruslan Fedotenko
on the wings has been the team’s most consistent and best balanced all year. The coach also emphasized that he thinks Boyle and Prust, in particular, have built a very special chemistry.
|Rookie forward Dale Weise returns to the Blueshirts' lineup tonight after making his NHL debut at Philadelphia last month. He'll play on a line with Chris Drury and Sean Avery vs. the Lightning.
Tortorella will keep that line combination intact tonight, but will have to tinker with the other lines a bit following Erik Christensen
’s knee injury Wednesday night in Newark. Christensen suffered a second degree sprain of the MCL in his right knee after colliding with the goal post against the Devils and will miss four-to-six weeks of action.
To replace Christensen on the roster, the Rangers recalled winger Dale Weise
from the Connecticut Whale. Weise will skate on the fourth line tonight with Chris Drury
moving back to the center position and with Sean Avery
on the other wing.
“I feel more comfortable this time around, especially being able to get into a practice,” said Weise, who made his NHL debut on Dec. 18 in Philadelphia. “They know what they will get from me, and I think my style complements the other guys on this line. Aves is so strong down low with the puck, so good on the cycle. And Dru is strong down low, too. I think all three of us complement each other.”
On the back end, Tortorella said he is not sure if defenseman Michael Del Zotto
will return to the lineup tonight after missing three straight games.
For his part, Del Zotto contends that he will be more than ready to perform when Tortorella gives him the opportunity to return to game action.
“This is just extra motivation to work harder every day,” Del Zotto said. “I want to prove to the coaching staff that I belong in the lineup. This is new for me, and it is frustrating when things aren’t going your way. But this is part of the learning experience, and hopefully it’s the last time I have to go through it.”
Immediately following tonight’s game the Rangers head to south Florida where they will skate against the Panthers on Sunday at 5 p.m.