Blueshirts know their priorities tonight at Atlanta
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
When the Rangers face the Thrashers tonight in an Eastern Conference matchup at Philips Arena, head coach John Tortorella has made it very clear that he does not want to see his club play the same wide-open style which ultimately led to a 4-1 defeat in Carolina two days ago.
“We can’t run-and-gun,” Tortorella stated succinctly. “And we won’t run-and-gun.”
While pleased with the plethora of scoring chances his team created amongst its 40 shots against Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward on Thursday night, Tortorella believed that the Rangers veered too far from what makes them successful on the defensive side of the puck.
|Rangers blueliner Steve Eminger said it is crucial for the team to concentrate on protecting its own zone and avoid allowing opponents to draw the Blueshirts into a high-risk, run-and-gun style of play.
In short, it wasn’t so much the 39 shots his team allowed on Thursday that upset the head coach, it was the amount of premium scoring chances against Henrik Lundqvist
that bothered him more. And the club’s defensive shortcomings far outweighed its offensive play, in Tortorella’s opinion.
“If we’re going to compete, especially in the second half of the season, we have to defend the proper way,” said Tortorella. “It has to be of the utmost importance to us. We have to defend first, and then work from there. So we have some work to do.”
Tortorella wasn’t by himself in recognizing that Thursday’s game was atypical for the Rangers. Lundqvist and many of his teammates spoke extensively about the importance of playing a more sound and disciplined defensive game, beginning tonight in Atlanta.
“We were trading chances back and forth too much, and that’s not how we are successful,” said defenseman Steve Eminger
. “We want to play a more simple game and stay away from the high-risk plays.”
Due to a string of injuries to regulars on the roster, the Rangers have been incorporating many new faces into the lineup of late. As such Tortorella understands that these new players - recent trade acquisition Wojtek Wolski
as well as farmhands Dale Weise
, Kris Newbury
, and Chad Kolarik
-- need to be schooled on exactly how the Rangers play in all three zones of the ice.
However, neither the coach nor his players are looking for any excuses as to why the Rangers strayed off course recently.
“It’s definitely a challenge for us,” said Lundqvist. “We have a lot of key guys out, and new guys are coming up almost every day. But that’s no excuse. This is a key week for us, and everyone has to step up.”
Several of the newer faces on the roster have impressed Tortorella, who stated emphatically that both Newbury and Kolarik will remain in the lineup this week because he is so taken with their play.
|Forward Kris Newbury, who played in 48 NHL games before joining the Rangers organization, is one of the newcomers who has impressed head coach John Tortorella in his ability to make an impact.
Rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh
has stood out in a positive way over the eight games he has played since being called up from the Connecticut Whale. Strong in his own end, making quick, smart decisions with the puck, McDonagh has an impressive plus-7 rating and has seen his minutes increase as the head coach becomes more confident in the youngster’s play.
McDonagh and Kolarik both earned their first points in the NHL on Thursday, assisting on the Rangers’ lone goal scored by Brandon Prust
“When guys get hurt it gives other people the chance to step up, and several of these younger players have done exactly that,” said Tortorella. “As for McDonagh, he just keeps getting better and better every game he plays.”
Tortorella said that another prospect from within the organization, forward Brodie Dupont
, might be in the lineup tonight. Dupont, 23, was recalled from Connecticut when Ruslan Fedotenko
was injured during Wednesday’s 7-0 win over the Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden, but did not play in Thursday’s game in Carolina.
“I want to take a look at Brodie,” said Tortorella. “He would take the place of Weise -- who has done nothing to merit being taken out of the lineup except for the fact that I want to see Brodie play up here. But I haven’t decided what we are going to do yet.”
Tonight’s game is a very important one for both teams. Through 49 games the Rangers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 57 points, while the Thrashers are in eighth place, just three points behind the Blueshirts.
A victory by the Rangers provides them some breathing room as the NHL heads towards its All-Star break. But a loss would let the Thrashers climb to within a point of the Rangers in the standings.
Following tonight’s contest, the Rangers head to Washington, where their current three-game road trip comes to a close on Monday night with a clash against the Capitals. The following night, the Blueshirts host the Florida Panthers at MSG in their final game before the break, and the finale of a grueling five-games-in-seven-nights run.