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• Game Notes
• New Tortorella Show Premieres Tonight on MSG
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers play the middle game of their three-game Thanksgiving Week road trip tonight, when they skate at the BankAtlantic Center against the Florida Panthers.
Although Blueshirts head coach John Tortorella cannot predict the game’s outcome, he is confident that the Rangers will put forth a more complete effort than they did in the opener of this trip -- Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It was a head-scratcher for me, and it’s unacceptable,” Tortorella said following an early afternoon practice in Tampa on Thursday before the team took a short flight to South Florida. “You’re going to lose games in this league, but you can’t lose that way. That’s what bothers me the most. But I think we’ll respond the right way (Friday) night (against the Panthers).”
Most bothersome to the head coach was how the Rangers were outplayed in every phase of the game over the first two periods, which ended with the visitors trailing 5-0. An extremely strong third period, in which the Rangers scored three unanswered goals, was the lone ray of light on an otherwise dark night in Tampa.
Tortorella was not surprised by how upset his players were with their performance on Wednesday, in particular how -- to a man -- the players believed they let goaltender Henrik Lundqvist down with their collective play.
“Hank has done a lot of heavy lifting for this team along the way, so when you have the opportunity to help the guy and don’t get it done it’s hard,” said Tortorella. “That’s a good thing that they are thinking that way because we are a team, and that’s where I think we’ve come so far this year in the first 23 games. We are together here, and that’s very important to get where you want to be.”
In his first start since last Friday in Colorado, a near-defenseless Lundqvist surrendered five goals in the first 40 minutes on Wednesday before pitching a shutout in the third period. He finished with 29 saves and will start in goal once again tonight.
“When you give up that many goals in the first couple of periods it’s hard to feel great (about your own game),” said Lundqvist. “It got better in the third period, but I am not satisfied with how this turned out. Right now I am just trying to work hard and hopefully I can have a better game next time out.”
Tortorella began juggling his lines during the game against Tampa, and continued to do so in practice on Thursday. While he wouldn’t commit to these lines for tonight’s game, there is a good chance that the top three lines will see changes.
At Thursday’s practice, Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik were joined by Brandon Dubinsky, while Ryan Callahan was skating with Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko, and Artem Anisimov was centering Alex Frolov and Brandon Prust.
It is possible that veteran Todd White will replace Derek Boogaard on the fourth line tonight, playing with Erik Christensen and Sean Avery, because Boogaard was unable to practice Thursday due to a sore shoulder. Tortorella said Boogaard’s status is “day-to-day”.
One of the players Tortorella is looking to spark with a new set of linemates is Gaborik. The club’s top goal scorer with 42 a year ago has just four in 11 games so far this season, and since three of the goals were scored in the same game, it means Gaborik has scored in just two of the 11 games in which he has played.
“I want to play better, obviously,” said Gaborik. “I want to perform. I want to go out there and I want to improve, definitely. I just want to play better and pull this team forward.”
Gaborik emphasized that he is not blaming his shoulder -- which was separated back in October and caused him to miss 12 games as a result -- for his slow scoring pace. And his head coach believes Gaborik will pick up his production soon.
“Gaby is our best player, and he will get it done,” said Tortorella. “What I respect about Gaby is he’s one of the more engaged and in-tune elite players in this league. I think he’ll respond.”
Gaborik has been playing with Stepan, the rookie center, the past several games and while Gaborik’s numbers have not quite been there, Stepan’s have improved dramatically. After notching a goal and an assist on Wednesday, Stepan now has recorded at least one point in five consecutive games for a total of two goals and four assists over that span.
Earlier this season, Stepan was on the other side of things when he went 11 straight games without recording a point and he saw his ice-time drop to around 10 minutes a night. Now Stepan is producing again, with Tortorella calling him “our best player against Tampa”.
“Like my grandpa always says, ‘When it rains it pours’,” Stepan said of his recent scoring success. “I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this is all part of the process for me. It was good for me to play 10 minutes a night in a somewhat different role. It helped get me to what I am doing now.”
Veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival took part in Thursday’s practice and Tortorella has been saying that he is hopeful Rozsival could return by this weekend to the Rangers lineup. However, Rozsival did not seem to think that his return would take place tonight.
“I am feeling better, and my shoulder is feeling better, but I think I need to do more skating like (Thursday),” said Rozsival, who has missed eight straight games with a shoulder injury.
Following this evening’s game with the Panthers, the Rangers finish up their road trip in Nashville with a contest against the Predators on Saturday night.
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