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• Game Notes
• Friday Recap: Rangers Edged in Pittsburgh
Note to Attendees: In celebration of the 2009-10 home opener, the doors to MSG will open early tonight, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers play their home opener this evening, hosting the Ottawa Senators, and nearly half the players who will be wearing the home blue sweater will experience for the first time what it is like to be on the home side in a rollicking sold-out Madison Square Garden.
“I am really looking forward to playing in front of the home fans,” said winger Marian Gaborik, one of the nine new faces expected to be in the Rangers lineup this evening. “I have only played a few games here when I was with Minnesota, but the atmosphere is incredible.”
Gaborik made his Rangers debut on Friday night in Pittsburgh where the Rangers opened up the 2009-10 season with a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins. The highly-skilled winger from Slovakia played as advertised, scoring a third period goal and leading the Rangers in both shots (8) and ice-time (24:26).
Eight other players made their Rangers debuts on Friday night, including Long Island-born winger Christopher Higgins, who assisted on Chris Drury’s first-period goal. Higgins was a hustling presence throughout the game, like Gaborik playing on the power play and penalty kill as well as at even strength, and finished with more than 20 minutes of ice-time.
Playing in his first game at MSG tonight will be quite special for Higgins.
“It’s going to be really exciting, and I am really looking forward to it,” said Higgins. “It’s going to cost me my whole paycheck to get all of my family and friends into the game, though!”
A pair of young Rangers defensemen appeared in their first National Hockey League contest on Friday night, and both 19-year-old Michael Del Zotto and 25-year-old Matt Gilroy acquitted themselves quite nicely.
Del Zotto, who at 19 years and three months of age became the second youngest defenseman ever to appear in a game for the Rangers, was in the starting lineup against the Penguins and also was one of the team’s quarterbacks on the first power play unit. Wearing the No. 4 in honor of Hall-of-Fame defenseman Bobby Orr, Del Zotto displayed confidence and skill rushing the puck in his debut.
The more mature Gilroy, though, made fewer mistakes than his fellow blueline rookie, according to Rangers head coach John Tortorella. Gilroy finished with a plus-two plus/minus rating in just under 20 minutes worth of ice-time.
“Gilroy looked like he was comfortable, and Michael looked a little nervous,” said Tortorella after Friday’s contest. “But he’s going to play and we’re going to keep putting him out there and get him used to this pace. It’s a pretty good pace playing against this Pittsburgh team on opening night.”
Fellow defenseman Marc Staal, who earned an assist on Gaborik’s goal and also found himself on the second power-play unit, was very impressed with both Del Zotto and Gilroy.
“They played well,” said Staal, who at age 22 is in his third NHL season. “They didn’t panic with the puck and they were moving it well. For the most part I was pretty impressed. I think they did a great job.”
While The Garden Faithful eagerly awaits the opportunity to see the newcomers make their home-ice debut this evening at MSG, they will also be excited to see popular veteran Rangers like Henrik Lundqvist, Brandon Dubinsky, and Drury, among others, return to the Garden ice.
For one fan favorite, in particular, tonight will be a very special night. Winger Ryan Callahan, 24, will play his first home contest since being named the team’s alternate captain by the coaching staff on Friday morning. A heart-and-soul player to his core, Callahan will proudly wear the “A” on his home blue sweater tonight for the first time.
“It’s quite an honor to wear a letter on this team and this organization,” said Callahan. “I am not going to change my game at all. I think the reason I got it is because I go out there every night and try to lay my body on the line and work hard and try to set an example.”
New faces and more familiar ones wearing the home jersey, set to represent the passionate Garden Faithful this evening and throughout the 2009-10 season.
It’s time to drop the puck on a new year at Madison Square Garden.
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