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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers kick off a three-game homestand tonight with a difficult match against the Buffalo Sabres at Madison Square Garden.
When they do take to the ice, they’ll be playing their first game this season without rookie defenseman Matt Gilory, who was assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate in Hartford on Thursday and thus will be absent from the Rangers’ lineup this evening.
“There is one part of his game that we feel he needs to be consistent with, or at least make an effort at, and that is the competing part of it,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “This is how a young player is going to be handled when there are some bumps in the road.”
Tortorella emphasized that Gilroy, who assisted on a shorthanded goal in Hartford’s 5-2 loss to Portland on Friday night, was not being punished for being on the ice when the Chicago Blackhawks scored the tying goal late in the third period or the winner in overtime on Wednesday evening against the Rangers. Instead, he explained that the team’s coaches and management have been discussing Gilroy’s battle level the past two weeks and finally decided to make a move on Thursday.
“This is part of the process in trying to make him a better player,” said the head coach. “He’s got a bright future, but he has to go through the right steps as we go through this.”
Ilkka Heikkinen, the 25-year-old Finnish import who was recalled from Hartford during Wade Redden’s injury absence and played two games before being scratched in Chicago, will replace Gilroy in the lineup.
Heikkinen impressed the coaching staff in his first two NHL games against Buffalo and Detroit last weekend, with one part of his game really standing out.
“I see a player who has a little bit of jam to him and that is willing to hit,” Tortorella said of Heikkinen. “If we see a player who will give us a little bit of that, we’ll give him a chance.”
Another player with that quality returned to practice on Friday. Brandon Dubinsky, sidelined since Nov. 7 with a broken hand, took part in a full-contact practice for the first time since suffering his injury and reported no issues after the workout.
Dubinsky wore protection over his hand during practice, but was still able to stickhandle and shoot the puck effectively. His conditioning also seemed to be at a peak level, which shows just how hard Dubinsky has been working off the ice since breaking his hand in Calgary.
When Dubinsky is able to return to the lineup is still not yet known, but obviously his return date is drawing closer.
“I’m at the point now where it’s just a matter of me and the pain,” said Dubinsky. “If I can play with it and it feels OK then I’ll go as hard as I can. If it hurts, I’ll have to back off a little.”
Dubinsky won’t be able to help the Blueshirts this evening as they try and get their homestand started on a positive note. The Rangers have dropped two in a row and five of their last six games overall, although they did pick up a point in their overtime loss at Chicago.
With one goal scored in each of the last two contests, and only 12 in the last seven games, the Rangers are aware that they need to generate more offense. That will be a tough order this evening against the Sabres and their goaltender Ryan Miller.
Miller leads the NHL with a sterling 1.82 goals against average and .932 save percentage. A week ago, the Rangers were able to put two shots past him in a 2-1 road victory in Buffalo.
“They’re a good team with a great goaltender,” said Rangers forward Brian Boyle. “We remember that game; it was a big win for us. We’ve got to do more of that, get more big wins like that.”
One of the Rangers’ goal scorers that night in Buffalo was Christopher Higgins. The hard-working forward from Long Island also scored on Wednesday night, giving him two goals and three points in his last three games.
At practice on Friday Higgins was placed on the top line with Marian Gaborik, who still leads the NHL with 21 goals, and Vinny Prospal. Sean Avery was shifted from the top line and moved alongside Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan.
“They’re going to be gunning for us, too,” said Boyle. “They played a pretty good game against us (last Saturday) and probably want to get back at us for beating them. But we need this win to start building some momentum going forward.”
Following tonight’s game, the Rangers are back in action at The Garden on Monday when they host the Atlanta Thrashers. The Islanders then pay a visit to MSG on Wednesday as the Rangers close out their three-game homestand.
|Apr 06 '10||NYR 2 at BUF 5||J. Hecht|
|Mar 07 '10||BUF 2 at NYR 1 - ot||P. Kaleta|
|Dec 12 '09||BUF 3 at NYR 2||P. Kaleta|
|Dec 05 '09||NYR 2 at BUF 1||R. Callahan|
|M. Del Zotto||31||5||13||18||-10||16||3||1|