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• Game Notes
• Drury, Prospal Close to Returns; MDZ a Scratch
• Garden of Dreams Telethon During Game Tonight
• New 'Behind the Bench' with Torts Tonight on MSG
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight at Scotiabank Place, the Rangers face the Ottawa Senators to begin a busy weekend in which they will play three games in four nights, the eighth time already this season the Blueshirts have taken part in a three-in-four stretch.
That the club has posted a 16-12-1 record overall is due in large part to the fact that the Rangers have not only persevered when the games have been scheduled so close together, but that they have thrived, as well.
“When you have some success with it and you win some games it’s like muscle memory, you just feel like you can do it again,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “You can feel good about it and approach it different mentally, I think, when you have some success.”
With their success in these three-in-four scenarios the Rangers have managed all season to stay out of prolonged losing skids. The Rangers had a 0-2-1 stretch in early October, but since then have not lost more than two games in a row at any point.
Currently the Rangers have won four of their last six games and nine of 14 to place themselves in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 33 points.
“When it comes to that point where the playoff picture is coming down to the wire, it’s the games at the end of a three-in-four or last of a back-to-back where you could have packed it in because you were too tired or too sore, those are the points that will make a difference in where you end up at the end of the season,” said defenseman Steve Eminger.
Particularly impressive is how the Rangers have posted a perfect 7-0-0 record this year in the second games played on back-to-back nights. Their next opportunity in that situation will come this weekend when the Blueshirts skate in Columbus on Saturday and then return to Madison Square Garden to host the Capitals on Sunday.
“It comes down to that extra little sacrifice where, yeah, you’re tired, but as Torts says you aren’t tired, you can’t be tired,” said Eminger. “You’ve got to push through the pain and being tired and do that little extra, just battle through it all. That’s what we’ve been able to do so far.”
Before arriving at that next back-to-back set this weekend, the Rangers first must face the Senators this evening. Ottawa, which is only seven points behind the Rangers in the East, skated to a 3-1 victory at The Garden on Sunday night, a loss the Blueshirts would love to avenge this evening on the road.
“We get another crack at them, and I like that,” said rookie center Derek Stepan. “It’s a good opportunity to make sure we are playing hard and we do our best to put a better foot forward.”
Stepan is slated to skate with Marian Gaborik tonight, with likely Ruslan Fedotenko on their left side as Tortorella shakes up his line combinations once again. Tortorella has stated the previous two days that he is seeking better balance with his line combinations, and that he likes the potential of pairing a slick passer -- in Stepan -- with an elite goal-scorer like Gaborik.
Tortorella is also seeking a better start to tonight’s game than what the Rangers displayed on Sunday, as well as more consistent pressure and commitment to puck control. To that end he and the coaching staff ran extremely intense practices Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for this evening’s, and this weekend’s, action.
“It’s been a busy month for us and we haven’t had a lot of time to work on our systems and go back over important stuff in practice,” said forward Brandon Prust, who has scored two goals in the past three games. “So it’s very important we have had these days this week to focus on our game a little bit.”
Another area the Rangers worked on extensively in practice this week was the power play. The Rangers have scored just two goals with the man-advantage over the past five games, although Tortorella is quite pleased with how well Stepan and Marc Staal have played since being added to the points on the first and second power-play units, respectively.
“Puck movement is key, so we’re trying to get the puck moving and not holding on to it and letting other teams adjust,” said the head coach. “Good puck movement is important to get the types of chances we want to get.”
Tonight the Rangers seek their league-leading 11th road victory of the season. They enter play with 10 victories in 14 road contests. Only the Penguins, who are 10-3-1 away from Pittsburgh, have as many road wins in the NHL this season.
The Senators are coming off a 4-1 loss in Montreal on Tuesday, their fourth in five games and sixth in eight games. They have scored just four goals in their last four games, with three of those coming at the expense of the Rangers last Sunday -- all three scored by Chris Kelly.
The Rangers have won their last three visits into Ottawa, last losing back on Nov. 22, 2008. Last season Henrik Lundqvist surrendered only two goals in the two victories at Scotiabank Place, leading the Rangers to victories of 4-1 and 2-1.
“These are important points,” said Tortorella. “When you win these games, they help you down the road. If you lose these games it’ll kick you in the (butt) come April.”
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