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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
After sweeping a home-and-home set against the Islanders on Thursday and Friday, the Rangers kick off another important home-and-home with the Ottawa Senators this afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
Unlike the games with the Islanders, which were played on successive days, the Rangers’ rematch with the Senators in Ottawa won’t take place until next Thursday, giving the Blueshirts three days in between games.
However spread out these games are, the Rangers are well aware of their importance. Both the players and coaches believe that Ottawa will emerge as one of the teams the Rangers will have to battle for positioning within the Eastern Conference standings.
“No disrespect to the Islanders, who played us hard and tough, but we are going to have to be much better because I think we are playing a better team (Sunday and Thursday),” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella.
The Rangers skated to polar opposite types of wins in sweeping the Islanders this past week. They won a wide-open contest on Long Island Thursday night, 6-5, and then tightened things up en-route to a 2-0 shutout victory on Friday at The Garden.
While neither win was perfect in the eyes of the Rangers, the bottom line is that they secured four very important points and, thus, moved up into fifth place in the East.
“That’s what good teams have to learn how to do,” said center Erik Christensen. “If you’re not firing on all cylinders with one part of your game, you have to pick the other part of your game.”
With the back-to-back victories over the Isles, the Rangers have now won four of their last five games and nine of 13, starting with a 3-2 home-ice win over the Sabres back on Nov. 11.
In their last 13 games the Rangers have held their opponents to two goals or fewer eight times, winning all eight of those contests. Their 6-5 victory over the Islanders on Thursday was the other win in this recent stretch.
“We’ve been pretty good defensively here, though we’ve had a couple bumps along the way,” said Tortorella. “I still think our offense shouldn’t suffer when we’re playing good strong defense, and I think we need to still continue to grow as a team when playing strong defense and doing very well offensively.”
The Rangers have had three breakout games offensively during the past 13 contests -- scoring eight goals vs. Edmonton on Nov. 14, five at Minnesota on Nov. 20, and six at the Islanders three nights ago -- but other than those they have been limited to three goals or fewer the remaining 10 games.
Tortorella would love to see more consistency in his team’s offense, although he has been quite pleased with the end results on the scoreboard because the Rangers have still found ways to win on a regular basis.
The head coach is hoping that things will really fall into place when the club is once again completely healthy. To that end team captain Chris Drury joined his teammates on ice at practice on Saturday, and Vinny Prospal continues to improve by the day, following knee surgery more than a month ago.
Although Drury, who has been sidelined with an index finger broken in two places, was able to stickhandle, pass, and take some soft shots, Tortorella said that he was still “a couple weeks away” from returning to action, a timetable that still puts him ahead of Prospal, who has yet to resume skating.
Until such time that Drury and Prospal are actually back in the lineup the Rangers will continue trying to find a way to succeed without two of their key veterans on a nightly basis.
“We don’t focus on outside things, like how other teams are doing or guys that aren’t in our lineup, I think we are more focused on what we are doing and having the same mindset every night,” said Christensen. “I think that’s what Torts preaches, that we are not changing our game every night for different reasons. We are going to play the same hard way every night. I think that’s one of the things that has brought us success.”
One of the players who has helped bring the team a fair amount of success already this season is sturdy defenseman Marc Staal. Asked to play against the opposition’s best forwards and line combinations every game, Staal, a 2011 All-Star Game candidate, has emerged in his fourth NHL season as a true shutdown defenseman.
He also has shown glimpses of being a very talented offensive player, as well. The latest example of that took place on Friday when Staal found the perfect lane to accept a Derek Stepan pass and promptly blast a power play slap shot into the net for his fourth goal of the season.
“We have had many conversations where (Staal) has said that he wants to add (more offense) to his game, and we are going to give him the opportunities to do that,” explained Tortorella. “He signed his contract and there is some responsibility that comes with it, and we certainly want to give him the opportunity to play on both sides of the puck. We are going to slowly develop him (offensively).”
A victory tonight would equal the Rangers’ longest win streak of the season, so far, which is three games -- achieved twice. It would also even the Blueshirts’ record at 7-7-1 at MSG before the club heads to Ottawa looking for their league-leading 11th road victory on Thursday.
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