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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Coming off a pair of well-played games this past weekend, the Rangers look to continue their improved play tonight when they skate against one of the top teams in the league, the Chicago Blackhawks, at the United Center.
The Rangers dropped an unfortunate 3-1 decision to the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden on Sunday after defeating the Sabres 2-1 up in Buffalo on Saturday. The games were two of the better ones the Rangers have played in the past few weeks.
“We need to stay positive through this here because I thought we played really well (this past weekend),” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “I think the players the last two games have played really well as a team. So we have to stay positive and fight our way through it.”
To have played so well on Sunday, only to fall short when the Red Wings scored two goals in the last two minutes of play, was frustrating for the Rangers. In fact, they were only one more save, or one converted power play, away from a four-point weekend against two of the better teams in the National Hockey League. That’s what the coaching staff reiterated to the players when they returned to practice on Tuesday.
Tortorella also emphasized that a big part of the team’s success on Saturday and Sunday was much-improved defensive play. And he also stressed that commitment to strong defensive play is vital to any success the Rangers will have moving forward.
“We have to keep doing the good things defensively and the offensive will come,” Tortorella said of his club, which has scored only 10 goals in its past five games.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has perhaps the best view of what has changed in the Rangers’ defensive game over the previous two matches, and he is confident that the team is turning the corner with its approach in that area.
“I like the way we were playing in our zone where it feels like we’re more in control and not running around too much,” said Lundqvist. “The guys are doing a good job with that. I think we’ve calmed down a little bit, and you don’t feel like you have to cover up for anybody else. It’s a good thing, and something we’ll continue doing moving forward.”
The Rangers may also receive an extra boost defensively this evening against a very talented Blackhawks squad. Veteran defenseman Wade Redden could return to the lineup after a five-game absence caused by a shoulder injury. Redden took part in a full practice that included contact on Tuesday and said that, although he does not feel 100 percent, he was hopeful of getting back in the lineup.
Tortorella said that he will make a decision about Redden’s ability to play on game day, after consulting with team trainers.
The Rangers have lost four of five with Redden out of the lineup, and he is itching for the opportunity to help out his teammates again.
“The main focus has been getting healthy again, and it’s tough watching because you’d like to be out there doing what you can to help,” Redden said. “Obviously we’ve been through a bit of a skid, and we want to come out of it.”
Although he has been sidelined, not practicing or playing in games for the past two weeks, Redden has spent his time preparing as much mentally as physically for his return to action.
“It’s a chance to watch and assess and see what other guys are doing and what you think you need to do better,” said Redden. “I see some of our young guys on defense who play hard and have that energy, and that’s something that I want to do, come back and join that group.”
At practice on Tuesday, Tortorella once again shuffled his forward line combinations. Most notably, he moved Vinny Prospal back to center with Marian Gaborik on his right side, and Sean Avery was returned to their left.
Avery has been one of the Rangers’ best all-around players game-in and game-out the past several weeks, becoming much more of an important presence on the ice than earlier in the season. Tortorella credits several candid conversations he had with Avery, and the player’s own positive response to those meetings, as the reason why Avery has been so effective of late.
“Sean and I had a couple of very pointed conversations, and to his credit he has responded,” said Tortorella. “I just hope other people see that. If you respond, you’re going to play. I think Sean has been very good for the last little while here for a number of games.”
The Rangers will need a strong team effort this evening. The Blackhawks lead the Central Division with 39 points (18-7-3) and they have scored 21 more goals than they have surrendered. In addition, the ‘Hawks have won eight of their last nine home games at the United Center, where they are one of the most dominant home teams in the entire league.
On the road, the Rangers have played respectable .500 hockey so far this season, posting a 7-7-1 mark. However, the Rangers have won three of their last five away from The Garden, including Saturday’s impressive 2-1 victory in Buffalo.
Interestingly, the Rangers’ last three road wins have all ended with the same identical score, 2-1.
Following this evening’s Original Six tilt in Chicago, the Rangers return to MSG to open up a three-game homestand against the Sabres on Saturday night. That contest will be followed on Monday with one against the Atlanta Thrashers. And next Wednesday, the Islanders pay their first visit of the season to The Garden.
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