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• Game Notes
• Sunday Recap: Rangers Blank Ducks
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Rolling along with four straight victories after Sunday’s 3-0 blanking of the Anaheim Ducks, the Rangers are right back in action tonight at Madison Square Garden when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
A win today would equal the Rangers’ longest winning streak of a year ago. Last year the Rangers opened up the 2008-09 campaign with five straight wins en route to the best start in franchise history.
This season began with a tough 3-2 opening night loss in Pittsburgh. But since then, the Rangers have reeled off four consecutive victories, perhaps none more impressive than yesterday’s dominating shutout over a very good Ducks team.
“We are still trying to teach our team concept and trying to define who we are as a hockey club,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We have ended up gaining some success, and I think we start to believe in what we can become as a team.”
The Rangers thoroughly outplayed Anaheim -- outshooting the Ducks by 38-18, including a whopping 13-1 advantage in the first period -- but did not break through against J.S. Giguere until the third period.
The fact that the Rangers never lost their confidence or patience as Giguere denied one scoring opportunity after another was very impressive.
“That’s a great thing to see for us,” said defenseman Wade Redden. “We don’t want to get off our game. We want to stick with it. And it paid off for us (last) night. Our power play came up big in the third period, and we were rewarded.”
After starting the season 0-for-9 on the power play, the Rangers have gone 5-for-16 with the man-advantage in the past three games, accounting for half of the team’s goals in that span.
In addition, both Marian Gaborik’s game-winner in Washington on Thursday and Ales Kotalik’s winning goal yesterday were scored on the power play, while Kotalik’s game-tying score in New Jersey on Monday also came on the man advantage.
“We thought we were getting good scoring chances on the power play the first two games, the puck just wasn’t going in,” said Kotalik, who has netted two of this three goals this year on the power play. “We stayed with it, and now it’s paying off.”
Kotalik, a forward, has teamed with 19 year-old rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto to man the points on the Rangers’ top power play unit, and the intriguing twosome has built a quick chemistry together.
Del Zotto has recorded points in four consecutive games. Of the five points he has notched in that span, the last four have come on the power play. And he has earned the primary assist on the Rangers’ two most recent game-winning goals.
“I don’t want to get too happy about things or too complacent,” said Del Zotto, who is 2-3-5 so far this season. “All of this is a big confidence boost, but I just want to do whatever it takes to help out the team and get us more wins here.”
One player who has received many compliments from Tortorella ever since his arrival in training camp is veteran forward Vinny Prospal, who has been a major contributor both on the power play and at even strength so far during the regular season.
Tied with Del Zotto for second on the team with five points, Prospal (1-4-5) has shown a tremendous work-ethic and willingness to win hard-fought battles in order to create scoring chances for his team. A perfect example of that occurred late in the second period against Anaheim, when Prospal outworked two Ducks defenders to gain control of the puck behind the net, before centering in front for a point-blank opportunity for his linemate Brandon Dubinsky.
Prospal also has shown his high skill level, evidenced by his quick and perfect pass out of the left-wing corner to set up Artem Anisimov’s first NHL goal on Sunday.
“The thing that draws me to him is that I just think he competes, and doesn’t get enough credit for how hard he competes,” the head coach said of Prospal. “That’s a darn good thing to draw a coach to a player.”
Riding the wave of Steve Valiquette’s 18-save shutout, and four consecutive wins overall, the Rangers face a rugged Maple Leafs squad still in search of its first win of the season after an 0-3-1 start.
Leafs General Manager Brian Burke retooled his roster during the off-season to be hard-nosed and pugnacious. And its skill level will increase, as well, when former Boston Bruins sniper Phil Kessel returns from off-season shoulder surgery in November.
One of Toronto’s free-agent pick-ups was former Rangers enforcer Colton Orr, who will return to The Garden this evening for the first time since leaving the club on July 1.
“I have a lot of respect for Colton Orr,” said Tortorella. “He did a lot of heavy lifting for this organization over the years.”
Tonight’s contest is the second of a stretch that sees the Rangers playing three-games-in-four-nights at MSG. The Blueshirts will host the Los Angeles Kings to conclude the run on Wednesday night before heading to Toronto for a rematch with the Maple Leafs on Saturday evening.
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