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• Game Notes
Broadcast Note: Tonight's game will be televised on MSG2. The 6:30 p.m. pregame show can be seen on both MSG 2 and MSG.. Click here for complete MSG2 channel listings.
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
When the Rangers skate against the Islanders this evening at the Nassau Coliseum several of the top young players in the National Hockey League will be on display, including former major-junior teammates Michael Del Zotto and John Tavares.
Del Zotto, the Rangers’ 19-year-old first-round pick in 2008, leads all NHL freshmen in points with 12, while Tavares, the much-hyped first-overall pick in the 2009 draft by the Islanders, is fifth among rookie point-producers with seven. The two talented youngsters were teammates, first with Oshawa, and then with London, in the Ontario Hockey League.
Both players have made immediate impacts on their respective teams, with Del Zotto providing a slick puck-moving defenseman and a power-play quarterback to the Rangers, and Tavares providing the Islanders with a desperately-needed sniper. Del Zotto (4-8-12) has produced points in all but three of the Rangers’ 12 games this season, while Tavares has contributed three goals and four assists, although he has been held off the scoresheet in each of the Isles’ last four games.
“He’s played very well,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of Del Zotto. “The thing I respect about him is that I think he’s got a great personality, a nice strut to him, but he hasn’t crossed the other line either, where it’s good to get here, and you forget how you got this opportunity from the first day of camp until now. He’s handled himself very well that way.”
Though Del Zotto is off to the better start, and is playing for a Rangers team that is near the top of the league standings with an impressive 8-3-1 record following Monday’s 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes at Madison Square Garden, it likely will be Tavares that will receive more of the attention and play under the bigger spotlight this evening. It is something that Tavares deals with on a nightly basis, considering the fact that he was one of the most prolific scorers ever to emerge from major junior.
The Rangers, though, are not in awe of the talented No. 91.
“You see highlights of him all the time because he was the No. 1 overall pick,” said veteran Rangers’ forward Vinny Prospal. “But we don’t care about that. We just care about us. And hopefully (the Islanders) are more worried about us coming into their building.”
Del Zotto and Tavares are not the only talented youngsters who will take part in tonight’s contest. The Rangers’ lineup will also feature 21-year-old rookie center Artem Anisimov, who has three goals including a pair in the past two games, 25-year-old rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy, who has two goals and an impressive plus-five plus/minus rating, and 23-year-old Enver Lisin, who has graduated to top-line duty and scored a clutch goal in Monday’s win over his former team.
“He has embraced this opportunity,” Tortorella said of Lisin, who has three goals, five assists, and eight points on the season. “I don’t think he’s nervous. He’s getting his chance now, and he’s embracing it.”
Since joining Prospal and Marian Gaborik on the top line two games ago, Lisin has recorded three points. Meanwhile Gaborik and Prospal are both coming off three-point efforts with Lisin as their linemate on Monday.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are -- you can be 35, 18, whatever -- if you get the chance to play, you can’t be afraid to make plays,” said Prospal, who is second on the club with 16 points. “Lisin creates a lot of open space with his speed, just like Gabby, and that’s where a lot of our scoring chances come from.”
For the Islanders, 25-year-old winger Matt Moulson -- with just 29 games of NHL experience under his belt coming into this season -- is the most surprising of the club’s youngsters, so far. Moulson leads the team with five goals and nine points.
Josh Bailey, a 2008 first-round pick, 2006 first-rounder Kyle Okposo, and 23-year-old Blake Comeau are among the other younger Islanders playing key minutes for a team that has lost five games past regulation already this season, while compiling an overall 1-4-5 record.
“We know they’re desperate, especially playing on home ice,” said third-year defenseman Marc Staal, another of the Rangers’ talented young nucleus. “There will be a lot of hitting. I’m excited. It’s always fun to go into the Island.”
Whether or not the red-hot Gaborik -- second in the league in scoring with 18 points, and tied for the league-lead in goals with 10 -- will play tonight is not known. He left Monday’s game late in the third period after a collision with Petr Prucha of the Coyotes and did not practice on Tuesday. The Rangers have stressed that the injury is minor, and has nothing to do with his previous groin and hip issues.
As a precaution, the Rangers have recalled winger P.A. Parenteau from the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL. Parenteau, who scored 34 and 29 goals the last two years in Hartford, had an excellent training camp with the Rangers, and is currently leading the AHL in goals with eight and is tied for most points with 14.
Following this evening’s contest, the Rangers continue on the road where they will skate against the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, before returning to MSG to host the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon. That game will mark the 50th anniversary of the Montreal-Boston game at MSG in which Jacques Plante opened the door for NHL goaltenders to begin wearing masks.
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