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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
As the Rangers officially kick off the second half of their 2009-10 schedule by playing their 42nd game tonight against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden, head coach John Tortorella says that the time for talking is over, and that results are what matter from here on in.
“I’m frustrated for the players,” Tortorella said of his team’s struggle to score goals and, subsequently, to secure more than the 19 victories they had in the season’s first half. “I think they are trying their (butts) off, but we simply have to get it done, have to get it done offensively.”
The Rangers enter the season’s second half with 43 points after snagging a single point in Saturday’s 2-1 overtime defeat at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes.
For the head coach and his players, that game was a microcosm of the Rangers’ issues in the season’s first 41 games. They worked hard, played smart and strong defensively, received solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, and had numerous more scoring chances than the opposition. However, their inability to put the puck in the net cost them a valuable point in the standings.
“We should have had the two points at the end of regulation, there should not even have been an overtime,” said Tortorella. “We have to finish our chances, and it can’t just come from one guy. We have to get someone to step up and score a goal other than (Marian Gaborik) because I think we are playing well.”
Gaborik once again did his part on Saturday, scoring his league-leading 27th goal midway through the third period to help the Rangers forge a 1-1 tie at the time. The Slovak sniper, who finished with five shots on goal as well as two others that hit the post, leads the NHL in goal-scoring by one over Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
Despite Gaborik’s brilliance this season, the Rangers have scored only 108 goals. That means Gaborik has netted exactly 25 percent of his team’s goals the first half of this season.
It also means that the Rangers need to give Gaborik some much-needed help on the offensive end.
The Rangers have scored only three goals in their last three games. They have been held to two or fewer goals in four straight and 12 of their last 15 contests. The bright side, however, is that the Rangers have found ways to secure points in the standings despite their lack of offensive production. The Blueshirts enter play tonight having earned points in seven of their last eight games (5-1-2), and, as a result, currently hold the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s tough when you only score one goal,” said Lundqvist, who will make his 16th consecutive start in goal this evening. “Guys are playing great defensively and are taking a lot of responsibility out there. We just need to score more often.”
Another area where the Rangers need to improve in the season’s second half is their record on home ice. Saturday’s defeat dropped the Blueshirts’ record at The Garden this season to a surprising 8-10-3. Since Nov. 30 the Blueshirts are only 1-5-3 on MSG ice.
“We’re having a little difficulty at home putting wins together, so there’s no satisfaction in getting a point (on Saturday),” said winger Christopher Higgins. “We need to get better at home. I think we’ve played well on the road, especially of late, but it just seems like we can’t get a win at home.”
Erik Christensen, the center who joined the Rangers on Dec. 2, is fairly stunned at his new club’s struggles on home ice.
“Since I’ve been here it seems the games we have at home have been full of tough luck or something,” said Christensen, who has a goal and two assists in his last two games. “I don’t think it’s like we’re not trying, but the end result is frustrating.”
Tonight, the Bruins will provide a stiff test for the Rangers. Though not nearly as successful as they were during last year’s regular season, the Bruins are still a formidable opponent. They currently sit in fifth place in the East with 49 points, and have surrendered only 95 goals this season, fourth fewest in the entire NHL.
The Bruins’ strong defense has made up for Boston’s own scoring problems. While the Rangers rank 20th among 30 NHL teams in goals-per-game this season, the Bruins are even farther down the list at 26th.
After a slow start to the season, the Bruins picked up their play in mid-November and have played consistently well ever since. Entering this evening’s match, the Bruins have won five of their last six games.
Boston could have a new face in the lineup tonight, as well. Veteran winger Miroslav Satan was signed to a one-year free agent deal on Sunday to help bolster the Bruins’ group of forwards. He becomes the sixth Bruin who will participate in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month, joining Bruins captain Zdeno Chara on Team Slovakia.
The Rangers and Bruins will face-off twice this week, as they also meet on Saturday afternoon up in Boston. Back on Nov. 1 Lundqvist stopped all 29 shots he faced and Gaborik scored the only goal in a 1-0 Rangers’ victory over the Bruins at MSG.
Three of the last six -- and four of the last nine -- meetings between the Rangers and Bruins have ended in a 1-0 score. And there has been a one-goal differential in each of the last six meetings since March 9, 2008.
So the Rangers will know what to expect tonight. But it won’t stop their coach from demanding more offensive production.
Following this evening’s tilt the Rangers return to action on Wednesday when they host the Dallas Stars. A pair of road games follow, Thursday in Atlanta and Saturday in Boston, before the Rangers are back on Garden ice for a Jan. 12 divisional showdown with the Devils.
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