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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
With back-to-back shutout losses on the road in their previous two games, Rangers head coach John Tortorella decided the best thing to do before his club returned to action tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Pittsburgh Penguins was to have a day away from the rink on Sunday.
So with a day off to regroup both mentally and physically, the Rangers hope to be refreshed when they take to the ice this evening against the defending Stanley Cup champs. That strategy worked well the last time the Rangers employed it with a day off before Tuesday night’s 8-2 rout of Tampa Bay in the last game played at MSG.
What bothered Tortorella most about the Rangers’ 6-0 loss in Montreal on Saturday night, was that his club was not fully engaged with its complete effort for the required 60 minutes of play.
“At times it was decent,” the head coach said of his team’s effort. “Other times it wasn’t there.”
The inconsistent effort and success of his club has been a concern all season for Tortorella, although it has been magnified of late. The Rangers went through an 0-2-1 stretch scoring just one goal while being shut out twice. Then the team won two straight games, totaling 14 goals along the way. Now they have suffered shutout defeats two games in a row.
“If we stick to playing the right way, the results will come,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “When we get away from doing the right things, playing the right way, in particular defensively, that’s where we get in trouble.”
Despite the recent ups and downs for the Rangers, the club’s fourth line has begun to gain the trust of the coaching staff and, as a result, is playing more important minutes. Tortorella has rewarded the line of Brian Boyle, Sean Avery, and Aaron Voros by having that threesome in the starting lineup for four straight games.
“We want to be a line that can do some damage because I think we have some skill,” said Boyle, who played more than 13 minutes on Saturday. “We want to be a line the coach can trust. And we always want to provide lots of energy.”
While their collective game is about more than just racking up penalty minutes, it is interesting to see how engaged this line has been when checking on their penalty minutes recently.
Avery, who is ranked 12th in the league with 109 penalty minutes, has totaled 24 in the past four games. In that span he has engaged in three fights, including an important one with Dan Carcillo of the Flyers on Thursday following Carcillo’s bout with Marian Gaborik earlier in the game.
Voros, who stepped in for Gaborik and fought Ryan O’Byrne in the third period on Saturday, has 26 penalty minutes in the last four games, including four fights. This year, in only 26 games, played Voros has totaled 63 penalty minutes.
“Everyone loves AV in this room and appreciates what he does and what a great teammate he is,” Boyle said of Voros.
At 6-foot-7 and weighing more than 250 pounds, Boyle is the largest member of the fourth line. The coaching staff has worked with him on playing more of a physical game, and he has responded as the season has worn on. In addition he has provided quality minutes as one the Rangers’ regular penalty killers, and has chipped in four goals so far this season.
“If I play the body, everyone appreciates that and it gives us a lift to play with even more energy,” said Boyle. “I feel great doing it. I want to make an impact and help the team win.”
Certainly the Rangers will need contributions from up and down the lineup tonight against the immensely talented Penguins. Though playing somewhat inconsistent hockey in the month of January, the defending champs still sit in second place in the Atlantic Division and in fourth in the Eastern Conference following a 2-1 win at Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
While the Rangers are trying to better secure a top-eight slot in the East and hold off the teams behind them, the Penguins are also hungry for points as they shoot for first place in the division and, perhaps, the top spot in the conference.
Always an entertaining night at The Garden when Sidney Crosby and his ‘mates come to town, MSG likely will be rocking again this evening. The Rangers will be seeking their first win against the Pens this season. So far they have lost all three matchups including a 5-2 defeat on Nov. 30 in the only contest between the two played on Garden ice.
Following this match, the Rangers return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at MSG. A three-game trip out West follows, with stops in Phoenix, Colorado, and Los Angeles, through next weekend.
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