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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Know this about John Tortorella as the Rangers head into battle this evening against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center: He is not the type of coach who marries himself to specific forward line combinations. Instead, Tortorella is known to be quite fluid with those combinations, both over the course of a game and a season.
But you can expect to see the threesome of Vinny Prospal, Brandon Dubinsky, and Marian Gaborik skating with one another once again tonight. That line combination began to show some promise in the latter stages of training camp, and has been the Rangers’ most productive in the first two games of the regular season.
“That is our top line right now and I think it’s one of the hardest working lines, too,” said Tortorella following Saturday’s 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden. “They’ve played hard and they’ve played very well. That’s important if you want to start winning consistently. Your top players have to be your hardest workers.”
In Saturday’s home-opener victory, the line of Prospal, Dubinsky, and Gaborik accounted for four of the Rangers’ five goals, while also combining for a total of six points. In addition, they created numerous other scoring opportunities for one another, recording a combined total of 13 shots on goal -- more than one-third of the entire team’s total of 34.
During Friday night’s season-opening 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh, Gaborik scored his first goal with the Rangers, assisted by Dubinsky. That line combined for 12 of the Rangers’ 27 shots on goals, with Gaborik recording eight himself.
“I see them working off one another, and it’s a nice combination with the three,” said Tortorella. “How long it stays that way, you never know. It comes and goes sometimes when you are dealing with forward lines, but they certainly do feed off one another.”
Prospal, who opened the scoring with his first goal as a Ranger early in the second period on Saturday, is the graybeard of the group at 34. He has played in nearly 900 NHL contests, and Saturday’s goal was the 600th point of his career.
The Czech-born Prospal also is a bit of a leader on the line, having played under Tortorella in Tampa Bay for several seasons.
“Vinny understands me,” said Tortorella. “We’ve had many ups and downs him and I, and he understands what’s expected. I’m good friends with him and have known him a long time. We have fought like dogs, but we also have a mutual respect.”
The 27-year-old Gaborik is the star of the top line, having now scored 221 goals in 504 games, including a career-high of 42 two seasons ago. Blessed with tremendous offensive skills and skating ability, Gaborik has scored in both games so far this season while also adding an assist.
“We just try and go out there, work hard, and have fun,” Gaborik said of playing with Prospal and Dubinsky. “We have to try and build on what we’ve done. We can’t get too satisfied. It’s just two games. The season is long, so we have to keep working to get better.”
Dubinsky, at age 23 and in only his third NHL season, is the least experienced member of the top line, although he is off to an excellent start in the 2009-10 campaign. Dubinsky tied career-highs by recording two goals and three points on Saturday, and his four points over two games currently leads the team.
Though less experienced than Prospal and Gaborik, Dubinsky has played on lines with elite level talent before. In fact, during his rookie season two years ago, he often centered a line that included future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr.
“I think we just do a really good job of working to get each other the puck and trying to get open, and when you do that you’re going to create chances,” Dubinsky said of the No. 1 line’s early success. “I think when you have the skill level that our line does and you get the chances, you’re going to score some goals.”
While that forward combination has done its part in the first two games, other Rangers have stood out offensively, as well. Team captain Chris Drury has notched a point in each of the first two games, while linemate Christopher Higgins and defenseman Marc Staal each earned assists in both games. Winger Enver Lisin has created a string of excellent scoring chances to go along with the assist he earned on Saturday. And 19-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto notched his first NHL goal in his second game on Saturday.
Plus, the team has been backstopped by the rock-solid play of Henrik Lundqvist, who followed up a strong opening night performance with an often-spectacular 32-save gem against the Senators.
Now tonight, the Rangers will cross the Hudson River to face the Devils, who are in search of their first win after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Flyers on Saturday. Jacques Lemaire has returned to New Jersey to replace Brent Sutter as head coach of the Devils, a team playing without one of its top guns, Patrick Elias, who is out following groin surgery.
Following this evening’s tilt, the Rangers return to action on Thursday night when they skate against the Washington Capitals down in the nation’s capital. That match will be the Rangers’ only contest over a five-day span before the club hosts back-to-back home games against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday and the Toronto Maple Leafs the following night.
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