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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Seeking better consistency in their all-around game, the Rangers are in back in action tonight when they face the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place in the middle game of their three-game road swing through Western Canada.
The Rangers dropped the opener of their trip in Vancouver on Tuesday, losing to the Canucks 4-1.
Against Vancouver offensively, the Rangers managed only four shots in the first period and five in the third, but they dominated much of the middle stanza by peppering goaltender Andrew Raycroft with 14 shots.
In their own end, the Rangers neutralized the Canucks most of the night, limiting them to very few prime scoring opportunities. But in the third period, with the score tied 1-1 after Christopher Higgins potted his first goal of the season, the Rangers had several key lapses that led directly to Vancouver goals.
“We gave up nine scoring chances (Tuesday) night, so I am happy the way we defended,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “But we made a couple major mistakes at a key time in the game.”
Defensive mistakes made by the Rangers recently have been even more magnified because of the team’s relative difficulty scoring goals. The Rangers have netted just five goals in their last four games since scoring five in a 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Oct. 26, and they have won only one of those four matches -- Sunday’s 1-0 shutout against the Boston Bruins.
“From a coach’s point of view I always say that we try to manufacture offense because you can’t teach the skills and creativity,” said Tortorella. “But we have to find a way to manufacture some offense. And that’s by being sharp in the neutral zone, getting it in deep, turning your back on the puck offensively in the corners and getting in behind the net, and just trying to wear teams down. That’s how you manufacture offense, and that’s what we need to do.”
It had to be a relief for the coaching staff -- not to mention the player himself -- that Higgins finally found the back of the net on Tuesday. A proven goal scorer at the NHL level, Higgins had not scored in the first 14 games he had played this season before converting Brandon Dubinsky’s pass into a score in the third period against the Canucks.
Higgins’ struggles to score this season have been mirrored by the likes of Ryan Callahan (two goals, but none in his last 10 games), Chris Drury (two goals, but none in seven), and Dubinsky (three goals, but none in his last eight games).
“I think we’re passing up on shots,” said Higgins. “We need to take more shots from different angles because sometimes you get rebounds off those shots and score some more goals from in front.”
Gaborik, of course, has done his part. He leads the team and is tied for second in the NHL with 11 goals, while also ranking fifth in the NHL with 19 points. Tuesday marked only the second time this season that Gaborik was held off the scoresheet.
“I don’t think our players are resting on it, that Gabby will always score the big goal,” Tortorella said. “I think the players always approach the game where they want to make a difference and not try to depend on someone else.”
With their recent struggles offensively -- combined with some uneven defensive play - the Rangers have won just twice in their last eight contests (2-5-1). They have not won a road game since a 4-1 triumph in Toronto on Oct. 17, losing four straight away from The Garden, while being outscored 15-8 in the process.
Tonight, the Rangers will look to snap out of it when they face an Oilers team which has lost five of its last six games overall. In those five defeats, the Oilers were outscored 15-3, and were shut out three times.
Over their first 15 games this season, the Oilers -- who are 7-7-1 -- are averaging a decent three goals per game, but are also surrendering three goals per game on average, a much-too-high figure for a team that hopes to contend for a playoff spot.
Of course tonight’s tilt will see the Rangers face their former head coach. Tom Renney, who preceded Tortorella as the bench boss on Broadway, is now Pat Quinn’s associate coach in Edmonton. Interestingly, Tortorella and Renney have much respect for one another, and have shared a positive professional relationship over the years.
Tonight, though, will not be about renewing old acquaintances for the Rangers. Instead it is about straightening out their game and securing the all-important two points that are up for grabs.
Following this evening’s battle in Edmonton, the Rangers take the short trip within the province of Alberta to Calgary where they will close out this road trip on Saturday night with a contest against the Flames.
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