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• Today's Game Notes
• Stepan Makes History in Opening-Night Win
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
While it would be a lot to ask that Derek Stepan recreate his opening-night, three-goal performance when the Rangers skate against the Islanders this afternoon at the Nassau Coliseum, it is imperative that the surging rookie and his teammates replicate the style of play that led to six total goals on Saturday up in Buffalo.
The formula for success on Saturday was clear: Go to the net. Create traffic in front of the opposing goalie. Win battles for loose pucks. Create scoring chances off of a strong forecheck. Shoot from all angles to create more rebound opportunities.
“We’re just trying to create some offense,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We haven’t been a prolific scoring team in the past, but we’re trying to add to that by being aggressive. We had some pretty goals (in Saturday’s opener vs. the Sabres), but we also manufactured goals. That was the key.”
While Tortorella has yet to mention his famous “Safe is Death” philosophy when it comes to creating offense yet this year, he has emphasized the need for all five Rangers on the ice at any particular time to stay aggressive in the offensive zone. And he repeatedly stresses to his players the importance of scoring “dirty” goals from in front.
In Saturday’s season-opening 6-3 win over the Sabres, Tortorella was pleased to see his team follow the offensive battle plan.
“I think they bought into just getting pucks to the net, and I think we made some good plays defensively to start us in the offense,” said Tortorella. “I thought they concentrated on many of the things we’ve talked about as a team and everybody chipped in.”
Stepan, who became just the fourth player in National Hockey League history to score three goals in his first game, netted all three from right out in front, never more than 10 feet away from the net.
His first goal came off a deflection of Dan Girardi’s right-point slap shot. His second goal was scored off the rebound of Marc Staal’s left-point shot. And his final goal was from the slot -- on a one-timer -- after Girardi kept the play alive along the boards, and Sean Avery made a slick feed from behind the net.
“We did a good job of shooting from all angles, crashing the net, and getting junky goals,” said Staal. “Most of the time, two-three times a game, maybe more, that’s the way goals are scored in a game. It’s never a bad play to just throw it on net, and you can see (Saturday) night it was working for us.”
Two of the Rangers’ other goals came from right out in front, as well. Brandon Dubinsky, who scored a pair, including an empty-net goal late in the third period, shed his check by skating hard to the cage and slam-dunking Artem Anisimov’s pass across the crease into the back of the net. And Erik Christensen wired a one-timer from the slot past Ryan Miller after Marian Gaborik controlled the puck behind the net and zipped a pretty pass out front.
“If you go to the net something good is going to happen,” said Anisimov. “You have to go to the dangerous spots, fight through it, to score goals in this league.”
The Rangers will look to carry that approach into today’s matinee on Long Island against their injury-ravaged rivals. The hard-working Islanders, who dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Dallas Stars in their season opener Saturday, lost their No. 1 defenseman Mark Streit and top-flight forward Kyle Okposo to major shoulder injuries in the preseason.
The centerpiece of the 2010-11 Islanders, forward John Tavares, the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, suffered a concussion in Saturday’s game, providing a devastating triple play of injuries for the Islanders so early in the season.
Tortorella warned after practice on Sunday that the Rangers had better not take the Islanders lightly just because three of their top players will sit out the game.
“I’m not sure what their lineup is going to be, because I know they have some injuries, but it’s going to be a hard-working Islanders team,” said the head coach. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Last season, the Blueshirts posted a 3-2-1 mark against the Islanders, winning two of the three matches played on Long Island. In his career against the Isles, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has posted a tidy 2.05 goals against average to go along with a 17-8-5 record. He shut out the Islanders twice, including a 5-0 blanking at The Garden this past March 24.
But past records and accomplishments do not count when these two New York rivals meet. A passionate contest can be expected no matter the standings, past history, or current state of injuries, as is the case with the Islanders presently.
“We hate to lose against those guys so you want to give your best effort and get a big win,” said Staal. “I can’t stand losing to those guys.”
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