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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Two teams on very different types of streaks meet tonight at the Air Canada Centre, where the Rangers, who have won six games in a row, skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs, losers of all six games they have played this season.
For the Rangers, their six-game winning streak is the longest for the team since running off seven consecutive victories from Feb. 1-March 2, 2006. It is a streak they most assuredly wish to continue this evening in Toronto.
“We’re definitely going in there looking to keep this streak going and trying to get two more points,” stated veteran winger Donald Brashear, who expects to return to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden.
“We’ve got to win some games on the road,” said Brashear. “We don’t care who we are playing against. We want those two points.”
Likely the Rangers will be facing a very angry and motivated Maple Leafs squad this evening. Not only has Toronto lost five straight games in regulation after opening the season with an overtime loss at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, but the Maple Leafs were hammered 7-2 by the Rangers last Monday at The Garden.
“We have to be ready because they are going to be hungry to play us,” said Vinny Prospal, who recorded a pair of goals, including the 200th of his NHL career, on Wednesday night.
The Rangers should be refreshed when they take to the ice tonight. Head Coach John Tortorella believed that his club looked tired playing its third game in four nights on Wednesday and, as such, gave the players a complete day off on Thursday before returning for a 45-minute practice on Friday.
Although they were not playing at their highest level against the Kings, Tortorella was impressed that the Rangers still found a way to win their sixth straight contest.
Certainly much credit lands in the lap of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was rock solid, making 34 saves on Wednesday for his fifth win of the season. The only two goals he allowed came off deflections in front.
While much attention over the first two weeks of the season has been placed on the Rangers’ revived offense -- 28 goals in the first seven games -- and power play -- nine goals in the last five games -- Lundqvist has quietly gotten off to another terrific start in goal. He has not allowed more than three goals in any one game, while fashioning a 2.35 goals against average and .924 save percentage to start the season.
Of course, it’s impossible to overlook the team’s vastly improved play in the offensive end when analyzing the Rangers’ excellent start, so far. Marian Gaborik (6-4-10) and Prospal (3-7-10) are among the league leaders in points, while Michael Del Zotto (2-5-7) and Ales Kotalik (3-4-7) are also both averaging a point-per-game. And contributions are coming from all four forward lines, as well as throughout the defense corps.
“We’ve got some different guys here that seem to mix right now, and I think more of them (are contributing),” said Tortorella. “That was something we targeted during the off-season because we felt we needed to upgrade our talent level.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the early going is the strong play of Del Zotto, the 19-year-old defenseman who is tied for second among all NHL defenseman with seven points heading into NHL action on Friday.
In addition, Del Zotto entered Friday leading all NHL rookies in points and assists.
“He has a nice swagger to him,” Tortorella said of Del Zotto. “When players go in and are just testing the waters and they don’t feel so sure, especially in those types of offensive situations, it’s not going to work. But he has a nice swagger to him where he’s on the right side of it. He knows he needs to be ready, but he knows he can do these things.”
The Rangers’ best offensive output so far this season was the seven-goal outburst they produced against Toronto on Monday. Four of those goals came during a third-period explosion; and eight different Rangers produced multiple-point efforts in the game.
No one on the Rangers’ side is expecting an easy contest tonight just because of last Monday’s result, especially with Toronto skating on its home ice for a “Hockey Night in Canada” matchup with an Original Six foe.
“There’s one thing for sure, they’re not going to win the game by not playing hard, they know that,” said Brashear. “But it’s always more about your team, and how good as a team you perform and fight. That’s the bottom line. We will play our game.”
Tortorella echoed those sentiments.
“We’re just going to worry about ourselves,” said the head coach. “That’s the biggest key for us, our execution, no matter who we are playing. It’s not disrespecting Toronto, it’s that we have enough to worry about with ourselves.”
Following tonight’s match, the Rangers return home for a pair of games at The Garden, Monday night against the San Jose Sharks and Thursday vs. the New Jersey Devils.
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