|NYR||0||2||2||(0 - 0)||4|
|WSH||1||0||2||(0 - 0)||3|
• Grachev Called Up from Hartford
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Considering the fact that the Rangers are still a team feeling its way, with nearly half the roster turned over from last spring, it can be said that the club has undergone a true baptism of fire over the course of the first week of the 2009-10 season. That most certainly will continue this evening when the Rangers skate against a very talented Washington Capitals squad at the Verizon Center.
With a lineup that features nine new faces -- including a pair of rookies playing important minutes on the blueline -- the Rangers opened up the season last Friday with a tall order on the road against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They followed up that 3-2 defeat with a game the very next night at home, a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Then on Monday it was a third game in four nights, a grinding 3-2 road win in New Jersey against the Devils. And now this evening, it’s the high-flying Alex Ovechkin and a Capitals team that eliminated the Rangers in seven games in the opening round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“It’s not the easiest schedule, that’s for sure,” said rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who has two goals and an assist in the first three games. “The first two games back-to-back, then three-in-four, and playing against some of the best players in the league. I think it’s a great task, but it gives us the chance to prove ourselves.”
While still building chemistry on the ice, the Rangers have played three strong games so far. Head coach John Tortorella has been pleased with how things have come together for his club, although there are still areas requiring improvement that he notices.
Tortorella was very impressed with how the Rangers -- now considered to be a more skilled skating team -- adjusted their approach in Monday’s victory over the Devils. With less open ice to freewheel and make plays, the Rangers grinded their way against a tough Devils team on the road.
“That was important to see this early in the season,” Tortorella said of how well his team adjusted.
This evening’s challenge will be to slow down Ovechkin, last year’s Hart Trophy winner who already has a whopping five goals and nine points in Washington’s first three games of the season, and the rest of his skilled teammates.
“This is going to be a great experience playing against Ovechkin, who is on fire right now,” said Del Zotto. “It’ll be a big challenge for all of us.”
Ovechkin, a three-time 50-goal scorer who led the league with 56 a year ago, is joined by Nicklas Backstrom, who has eight points already this year, Alexander Semin (4-3-7) and Brooks Laich (3-3-6) as Caps off to fast starts.
“Their team hasn’t changed a whole bunch, and there’s no secrets, they have an understanding how we play and we have an understanding how they play,” said Tortorella. “It’s a matter of which team is going to execute the best.”
Last April the Rangers stormed out to a 3-1 series lead in their best-of-seven quarterfinal playoff series against Washington, before the Caps rallied to earn the series victory. Revenge is not on the minds of the players still remaining on the Rangers’ roster from last spring. A new year has brought new challenges to a new group of Rangers players.
One of the newcomers will have a bit more personal incentive than most on Friday night. Rugged veteran Donald Brashear will be facing his former club for the first time since leaving the Caps and signing with the Blueshirts on July 1.
“Obviously I'm going to try and give a little extra,” said Brashear, who spent the last three seasons in Washington, playing in 220 of his 992 career games. “Sometimes they trade you because they think you don't belong there anymore or you don't belong in the league, and you want to show them you can play and still belong in the league.”
On Thursday after practice and before the team headed down to Washington, Tortorella expressed his happiness with how Brashear and his fellow fourth-liners, Aaron Voros and Brian Boyle, have played so far this season. In particular, the head coach praised the threesome for their solid all-around play in Monday’s win against the Devils.
“They gave us some important minutes just so we could get through some four-line rotations in that third period,” said Tortorella. “We thought that was important because of how much hockey we had played in the first four days of the season. And they didn’t hurt us. Each shift they played against Jersey’s fourth line, they played very well.”
It had been hoped that perhaps Sean Avery would be able to return to the Rangers’ lineup this evening, but that will not be the case. After Avery skated on a limited basis once again during Wednesday’s workout, he was ruled out of tonight’s contest by both himself and the coach.
“Not to say that I’m not effective at 85 or 90 percent, but I think it’s not fair to the team, and I don’t think it’s fair to myself, when you do it this early ( in the season),” said Avery, who is hopeful that he will be ready to play on Sunday at The Garden against the Anaheim Ducks. “It’s not Game 80 and we’re fighting for a playoff spot. The guys are playing well, and I’m sure they’re going to go into Washington and play a hard game without me, and then we’ll just take it from there.”
Sunday’s contest against the Ducks is the start of a three-game homestand for the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. They follow Sunday’s game with a tilt against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday and a contest with the Los Angeles Kings next Wednesday.
|Mar 06 '10||NYR 0 at WSH 2||E. Fehr|
|Feb 04 '10||WSH 6 at NYR 5||N. Backstrom|
|Nov 17 '09||WSH 4 at NYR 2||M. Bradley|
|Oct 08 '09||NYR 4 at WSH 3||M. Gaborik|
|M. Del Zotto||4||2||2||4||+1||2||1||1|