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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
A quarter of the way through the 2009-10 season, the Rangers are still seeking consistency in their collective game. That quest continues this evening at Madison Square Garden, where they host the Florida Panthers.
As they both climb a steady arc of improvement, Del Zotto and Gilroy have been handed more and more responsibility by the coaching staff. And both have seamlessly accepted bigger roles on the blueline while remaining remarkably poised on the ice.
“They are both so mature,” said veteran defenseman Wade Redden. “And these kids are in such good shape now. They’ve been training since an early age because it’s such a big part of the game. And I think you see that in both of them, along with the confidence. They have the confidence to go make plays, and have been rewarded with their great play with more playing time.”
What makes their poise and confidence all the more impressive is the fact that Del Zotto and Gilroy are both not only rookies, but first-year professionals, as well. Neither has had the benefit of playing in the minor leagues to help them adapt to the pro game. They have been handed a special opportunity, and neither has fumbled it away.
“They fit in, Michael and Gilly, they have shown they belong here,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “They’re going to make mistakes because of their inexperience, but we can live with that because the upside is so great.”
Through 21 games, Del Zotto has recorded 15 points (4-11-15), seventh most among all NHL defensemen and third among rookies. A fixture on the Rangers’ top power play unit since the opener, the slick-passing Del Zotto has gradually received much more ice time overall to the point now that he regularly sees between 18 and 20 minutes worth per game.
“I think the biggest thing has been taking it a day at a time and not looking ahead to the 82nd game or the playoffs,” said the 19-year-old Del Zotto. “It’s important to take every day and learn something new, just take it all in.”
Everything has happened so fast for Del Zotto so far in his rookie campaign. After working tremendously hard during the off-season, Del Zotto earned his way on to the NHL squad with an excellent training camp, and hasn’t stopped working or improving since.
“When I looked down (at the league standings) and saw 21 games, I was like Wow! It’s flown by,” said Del Zotto. “You really don’t have time to sit back and reflect on things so it really hasn’t hit me that I’m really here yet. To be honest, every day you just keep going and going.”
Gilroy, last season’s Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player, has proven to be a very quick study in all facets of the NHL game. He has played the point on the second power-play unit, teamed with Redden since the first game at even strength, and been a regular defenseman on the penalty killing unit, an area that the younger Del Zotto has not played yet.
One of the best skaters on the team, the 25-year-old Gilroy, who is 2-2-4 offensively, has surprised many with his strong defensive game. Gilroy has earned the trust of the coaching staff in all situations, posting a plus-six plus/minus mark which is second best on the team.
“He plays smart,” Redden said of Gilroy. “He knows how to deliver the puck in good positions, which helps get you out of trouble more often than not.”
Like Del Zotto, Gilroy is soaking up every minute of playing in the NHL with the Rangers and enjoying all of the experience.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Gilroy. “The amount of playing time I’m getting, and the confidence I have now, hopefully I can just keep improving as each game goes on. As we get deeper in I find more of a rhythm and feel more comfortable. And the coaching staff has not held me back at all, which is nice.”
The two rookie defensemen and their teammates play the middle game of a three-game homestand this evening against a Panthers team that started its three-game road trip with an impressive 6-2 win at Buffalo on Tuesday night and then beat Detroit 2-1 in overtime on Friday
The Rangers are coming off a 3-2 loss at The Garden to the Washington Capitals. Tortorella is interested to see how his team responds tonight after three straight days off since that defeat.
“We need to answer, and we need to play more consistent, especially at home,” the head coach said after Friday’s practice. “We found a way to lose that hockey game (on Tuesday), so when you have three at home and you lose that first one you want to come back with a good effort. And that’s what we’re looking to do.”
“He has a helluva shot,” Prospal said of Kotalik, who is second on the team with six goals and third with 17 points. “He can help in the corners, too, and create confusion in the offensive zone in order to create shots from the prime areas.”
Following tonight’s contest the Rangers will host the Columbus Blue Jackets at MSG in the finale of this homestand on Monday night. After that the Rangers embark on a three-game road swing to Florida, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh.
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