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• Tonight's Game Notes
• Captain Drury Returning to Lineup
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Over the course of a season, there are many exciting and special nights for the Rangers and their fans at Madison Square Garden. However, no other night at The Garden is as eagerly anticipated by so many for so long as the home opener.
Tonight, the anticipation ends as the Rangers raise the curtain on the home portion of their 85th anniversary season with a contest against one of their Original Six rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“The building is going to be rocking,” said center Brian Boyle, who will be taking part in his second home opener as a Ranger. “We like this team and we’re really excited about the season and think we are going to have a great year. We want to show the fans that.”
While there is no doubt that The Garden Faithful will be primed to raise the roof at MSG tonight, the players -- Rangers veterans, newcomers, and rookies alike -- are equally as excited to make their mark on home ice.
“It’s going to be way off the charts,” said rookie center Derek Stepan. “It’s something I have heard stories about and now I get to live it. I am so excited. I just want to get out there and experience it.”
Adding to the excitement of the home opener is the fact that team captain Chris Drury, who missed the first two games of the regular season on the road because of a broken left index finger, will return to the lineup for the game against the Maple Leafs.
Although Rangers head coach John Tortorella is unsure of which player will come out of the lineup to make room for Drury -- Erik Christensen has missed the last two days of practice with an injury to his right leg -- he is sure that the team will be improved on and off the ice by having its veteran leader back in the mix.
“He’s our captain,” Tortorella said of Drury. “He’s going to bring a lot of the little things we need in our game and we’re hoping he chips in some offense right away to get him going early on in the season. I’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
Drury has been champing at the bit to get back into game action, and the fact that his return falls on the same night the Rangers play their first home game of 2010-11 only adds fuel to his fire.
“I’m excited,” said Drury. “It’s the opener at The Garden, so it’s pretty special. I’m really looking forward to it and am glad that I am back in time for it.”
Should Christensen not play tonight, there is a good chance that Drury will center the top line between star wingers Marian Gaborik and Alexander Frolov. Tortorella said earlier in the week that he did not wish to shake up his lines and preferred that Artem Anisimov continue to center Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan while Stepan skated between Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Tortorella expressed how pleased he has been with those two lines through the first two games of the regular season, going as far to say that Anisimov’s line has been the club’s best, so far.
Anisimov has recorded three points (1-2-3) in the first two games, while his linemate Dubinsky leads the team with four points (3-1-4). Callahan has added two assists to that line’s strong production.
“I just think he has looked a lot more confident,” Tortorella said of Anisimov, 22. “He’s getting a lot of ice-time in all situations and he’s handled everything that’s been thrown at him. That’s a line we really wanted to take a look at when camp broke, and it certainly has not disappointed us.”
Drury’s return guarantees at least one change in the lineup, and on Thursday Tortorella said that he will make a change in personnel on defense, as well.
Second-year pro Matt Gilroy, a healthy scratch in Buffalo and Long Island to start the season, will take rookie Michael Sauer’s spot in the lineup against the Leafs. Gilroy will pair with Steve Eminger, as Eminger switches to his more natural right side from the left where he played against the Sabres and Islanders.
“Gilly had a good enough camp that he doesn’t need to be sat for a number of games here,” Tortorella said. “That 5-6 position (on defense) is one where we’re going to evaluate it and see where we go with that.”
The Rangers’ opponent tonight, the red-hot Maple Leafs, have started 3-0-0 for the first time in a decade. After edging the Canadiens 3-2 on opening night, the Leafs defeated the Senators 5-1 and most recently toppled the Penguins -- in Pittsburgh -- on Wednesday night.
Well-known for their rugged, physical style of play, the Leafs have turned up the offense this year, so far, as well. Toronto has 12 goals in three games, with the surprise being that Clarke MacArthur has scored four already.
However, at the core of Toronto’s team philosophy is a punishing style, led by team captain Dion Phaneuf and former Ranger Colton Orr, which quite often draws the opposition out of its own game plan.
“It’s the home opener and guys may get a little more excited, but we just have to stay even-keeled, playing with hunger and passion, obviously, but with a controlled aggression,” said Boyle. “It’s our building, it’s going to be a physical game, so we have to come out and be the aggressors.”
Tonight's game is one of four this season between the Rangers and Maple Leafs, including three in a span of eight games in the month of October alone.
Following the home opener, the Rangers return to action on Monday night at MSG to host the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
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