Prospal's return has Blueshirts fired up for tonight
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Two days after getting Ryan Callahan
, Brandon Dubinsky
, and Dan Girardi
back in the lineup, the Rangers will receive another boost this evening when they host the Devils at Madison Square Garden when Vinny Prospal
suits up for the first time this season.
Prospal, who has not played in a game since the Rangers’ season finale in Philadelphia last April, has had a series of setbacks since with his right knee, eventually having surgery in October. Now, after 53 games on the sidelines, he will make his season debut tonight.
“Vinny is dying to play,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “He is contagious, his enthusiasm. He brings a lot of little things to us, and I think that’s why he is so well-liked and respected in our locker room.”
|Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, who thrived with Vinny Prospal on his line throughout last season, could be getting a big boost for the rest of this season with Prospal's return to the lineup tonight.
Last season -- his first with the Rangers -- Prospal was the team’s second-leading scorer. He recorded 58 points -- trailing only Marian Gaborik
’s 86 -- and reached the 20-goal plateau for the fifth time in his career.
A veteran of 13 NHL seasons and 949 games, Prospal admitted after practice on Wednesday that he has had a case of the nerves for several days in anticipation of his return to the lineup.
“I haven’t played in a long time, so it feels great to be back and to help the guys play even better than they actually have been playing,” said Prospal, who turns 36 on Feb. 17. “I have been nervous the past couple of days because I knew I was close. When I go in to play I need to be ready right from the start.”
As he did most of last season, Prospal skated on a line with Gaborik during Wednesday’s up-tempo 45-minute practice. That twosome showed excellent chemistry a year ago, and Tortorella is hopeful that will carry over into this season, beginning with tonight’s game against the Devils.
Although Gaborik has scored 17 goals this season, he hasn’t quite hit his stride offensively, especially coming off a 42-goal campaign a year ago. It is hoped by the Rangers that Prospal can help Gaborik find his way to more consistent goal-scoring.
“I hope he jump-starts me because I’m the one that’s coming back,” Prospal joked after practice. “Obviously we need (Gaborik) to start scoring important goals for us just like he did all of last year. He knows himself that he’s been a little slow in that regard so hopefully (my return) will help. I am going to try everything that is possible to help him, as well.”
When Prospal puts on the famed Blueshirt this evening, one thing will be missing. He will no longer wear the alternate captain’s “A” that was stitched to his sweater a year ago. During Prospal’s injury absence, All Star defenseman Marc Staal
-- a vital member of the Rangers’ young core -- was given the opportunity to wear the “A” along with Callahan, and Tortorella explained on Wednesday that those two young veterans will continue to wear letters along with team captain Chris Drury
|Rangers defenseman Marc Staal served as alternate captain while Vinny Prospal was out with his injury. Rangers head coach John Tortorella said Staal has earned the right to keep the "A" on his jersey now that Prospal is back. Staal, 24, and Ryan Callahan, 25, will go forward as permanent alternate captains.
is going to keep the “A” because that’s where our team is going, trying to build our team with a foundation of our young guys,” said Tortorella. “Vinny understands that and understands the transition. And Vinny will lead anyway. He’s a pro, and he knew this was going to happen. And he almost wanted it to happen because he knew it was good for the development of Marc Staal
On the ice and in the locker room, the Rangers will be buoyed by the return of the popular Prospal. And those sentiments were shared from all corners on Wednesday when word was made official that Prospal was set for his season debut tonight.
“I am excited for Vinny’s return and am so happy that he was able to come back from his surgery,” said center Artem Anisimov
. “He is so important to us. I am happy to have him back.”
With Prospal, Callahan, and Dubinsky all back in the lineup, the Rangers are icing a much deeper set of forwards than at any other time this season. So deep is this group that skilled wing Wojtek Wolski
skated on an impressive fourth line with Drury and Sean Avery
at Wednesday’s practice.
Since the depth up front is as solid as it is, Tortorella said that he will have no issues using all four of his lines on a regular basis this evening.
The head coach, though, will have to keep an eye on Prospal -- who will be playing his first game in 10 months -- as well as Callahan and Dubinsky, both of whom were too sore from blows sustained during Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Penguins to practice on Wednesday. Tortorella emphasized that both Callahan and Dubinsky -- who combined for 44 minutes of ice time against Pittsburgh -- will be able to play tonight.
Following this evening’s Atlantic Division clash with the suddenly-hot Devils, the Rangers hit the road to face the Canadiens up in Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
“We know the things we need to improve on to try and be the best we can be,” said Tortorella. “It doesn’t matter who the opponent is or what they’re doing, or whether they are playing good or bad, we have to be concerned with ourselves.”