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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Despite a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night, the Rangers have the opportunity to put together a winning road trip if they can earn a victory tonight against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena.
The Rangers have split the first two games of their three-game trip that has bookended the Thanksgiving holiday. On Wednesday night, they played one of their best games of the season, according to head coach John Tortorella, skating to a 2-1 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers. However, last night Tortorella was less than pleased with the 5-1 defeat at the hands of his former club, the Lightning.
“We’re going to have to make a decision here sooner or later if we’re going to be a consistent hockey club,” said the head coach. “I think it starts with our preparation and it goes on to being ready to play at all times. If we are going to be a team that wants to be there at the end, consistency is a very important thing.”
The Rangers struggled mightily to create quality scoring chances against the Lightning on Friday. And they also seemed a step behind the aggressive Lightning forecheckers all night long. With the special teams not able to help save the day for the Rangers -- they allowed two power-play goals and were 0-for-2 on their own power play -- it turned into a long night for the Rangers.
“Our start, obviously, was not good enough,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “A lot of times they were in our end zone protecting the puck and winning those loose battles, and we weren’t keeping it down low working their D hard enough. We have to be better prepared to play.”
One key for Tampa Bay was its ability to neutralize the Rangers’ top scorer, Marian Gaborik. It is the goal of every Rangers opponent to shut down Gaborik, who is tied for the league lead with 19 goals this season, but so few have been able to do that.
Gaborik was held without a point on Friday night for only the third time this season. His eight-game point-scoring streak was snapped, after he totaled 14 points (8-6-14) in that span.
After a breakout seven-goal performance on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers have managed just two goals in the past two games, not counting P.A. Parenteau’s shootout score against the Lightning. Gaborik netted the only goal in regulation and overtime for the Rangers on Wednesday night, and Ryan Callahan scored with 2:07 left to play on Friday.
Put simply, the Rangers need to score more goals, especially when facing a high-scoring opponent like the Penguins this evening.
“Our secondary scoring has to be better, plain and simple,” said Tortorella.
Jumping right back into game action after last night’s loss is being welcomed throughout the Rangers’ dressing room. The players are eager to get the bad taste out of their mouths and put forth a quality showing this evening against a key Atlantic Division rival.
“Back-to-backs are always nice if you have a tough first game,” said Staal. “We’re going to look to go into Pittsburgh and rebound and try to play a lot better game.”
The Penguins are coming off a 3-2 loss on Long Island Friday afternoon in which they blew a one-goal lead in the third period to the Islanders. That loss snapped Pittsburgh’s three-game winning streak, although the Pens have still won five of their last seven games.
Entering play today the Penguins lead the Atlantic with 34 points (17-9-0) and are tied with the Washington Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. They have scored the second-most goals (79) in the conference, but have also surrendered a surprising 72.
After missing time due to injury, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar have both returned to the lineup to make the Stanley Cup champs a scary foe once again. They join team captain Sidney Crosby, who leads the club with 25 points (12-13-25) in 26 games played, as players the Rangers must focus on shutting down this evening.
Rookie defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti will play in his second straight game for the Rangers after making his NHL debut in Tampa last night. Sanguinetti played 16:14 against the Lightning, pairing at even strength with Matt Gilroy. He finished the game with one shot on goal, and handled himself well in his first National Hockey League action.
“Obviously I just want to play my game,” said Sanguinetti, who will be playing for the third straight night as he also participated in Hartford’s game on Thursday evening. “I’d like to help out a little bit offensively, try to chip in there. And I’d like to try and sho2re up a little bit in the defensive end.”
Tonight’s contest is the first of a home-and-home set for the Rangers and Penguins. After a day off on Sunday, the two teams will battle once again at MSG on Monday night in what will be the Rangers sixth game in 10 days.
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