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• Game Notes
• Notebook: Players Feel Intensity of Rivalry
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
After an exhausting -- yet very successful -- month of November, the Rangers kick off December with a home-and-home set against the Islanders. The two-game showdown begins with this evening’s contest at the Nassau Coliseum.
The Rangers, who have won seven of their previous 11 games despite Monday’s 3-1 loss to the Penguins, finished November with a 9-7-0 record. Many Rangers believe that there is no better way to keep the team on its collective toes than to open up December with back-to-back games against their local rivals.
“Every time we go into that building, or they come into ours, you know the rivalry is there,” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto. “It’s always a huge game and it’s a huge rivalry so there’s a little more at stake. We know every time we play them they come out a little extra harder, so we know we’re going to have to be on our game if we want to come away with a win.”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella professes not to be aware of the intensity in the crowd when the Rangers and Islanders face one another “because I’m so locked in down there”, but he knows that there is something different about a game when the Rangers and Islanders square off.
“When I was with Tampa you would go into (the Nassau Coliseum) and there would be no one there,” said Tortorella. “That’s the one difference I do see, because when you do go in with the Rangers organization there’s more people there. But I am wrapped up in our team and how we need to play.”
Rangers fans regularly come out in force for games on Long Island, creating an atmosphere that can take on the air of a home game. Many players have commented in the past that the Blueshirt Faithful have the ability to bring Madison Square Garden on the road with them to the Nassau Coliseum, and that is a tremendous lift to the Rangers.
“It’s awesome, especially when we score or do something good and our fans are louder than their fans,” said Del Zotto. “It’s pretty neat because I don’t know how many teams go through that on the road, but it definitely helps out. It’s one of those road games where you don’t have to create your own atmosphere or energy because our fans help us out with that.”
Along with strong fan support on the road, another thing the Rangers can count on tonight at the Nassau Coliseum is an intensely fired-up opponent. No matter how well or poorly the Islanders are playing -- and currently they have won just once in their last 15 games -- they bring their best and most emotional game when the Rangers are on the other side of the ice.
A good case in point was the teams’ only other meeting this season, a 6-4 Islanders win on Long Island back on Oct. 11 in which the home team crashed through in waves against the Rangers all game long in a seriously impassioned effort.
“When we play (at the Coliseum) there is always a lot of energy in the building and they play with a lot of energy,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “We have to be ready for a tough game because they are always ready to play against us. I don’t expect it to be any different than it always is. We have to match their intensity.”
In recent years, even when at, or near, the bottom of the standings the Islanders have jumped out to strong starts in their building against the Rangers, playing a very physical style and with a lot of speed. The Rangers are expecting exactly the same tonight.
“We always talk about before we play them in their building, they’re going to come hard right from the start, they’ll keep the game simple, take the body, and we have to match that and do even more,” said defenseman Michal Rozsival. “It’s going to be a great game there, like always.”
Following practice on Wednesday, Tortorella said that he was less concerned with what the Islanders will do then with what his team needs to do. Tortorella wants his team to dictate the play, not react to how the Islanders play.
In order to accomplish that, Tortorella believes that the Rangers need to possess the puck more than they have in recent games. While pleased with his club’s work on the forecheck, Tortorella does not believe that the Rangers have created enough scoring opportunities off their pressure because they have not had control of the puck often enough.
“No matter what (the Islanders) are trying to do, we have to do our thing and establish our game,” said Tortorella. “We need to have the puck more, so we are certainly going to try and establish that right away in our game.”
Following tonight’s contest, the Rangers and Islanders will switch venues and face-off against one another again tomorrow night at The Garden in the back end of this home-and-home set.
This season the Rangers are a perfect 6-0-0 in the second night of back-to-back games.
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