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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Off to a record-setting start on the road, the Rangers carry their league-leading 11 road victories with them into battle tonight when they skate against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
With those 11 wins over their initial 15 road contests this season, the Rangers have established their best start away from Madison Square Garden in franchise history. The 11 road wins in 15 games is one better than the previous mark held by the 1941-42 Blueshirts. And the current .733 road winning percentage is the best after 15 games since the Stanley Cup-winning 1939-40 Rangers squad went 8-2-5 over its first 15 games for a .700 mark.
Asked about his team’s success on the road this season following the 5-3 come-from-behind victory in Ottawa on Thursday, Rangers head coach John Tortorella grasped for answers.
“I could come up with a real fancy answer, but I really don’t know,” said Tortorella, whose Rangers are tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference with 35 points. “We just try and stay with it. We don’t get too far away from our structure, which is important because when we get away from our concept and how we have to play that’s when our game really struggles. But (on the road) we stay with it and everyone chips in.”
While that might be an over-simplified explanation of why the Rangers are playing so well on the road so far this year, the bottom line is that the Rangers are not only churning out victories away from The Garden, but they have compiled some huge “character-building” wins along the way, as well.
Thursday’s three-goal third period rally from a 3-2 deficit is just the latest example of the character the Rangers have shown on the road this season. They erased three one-goal deficits to earn the win, one that ranks right up there with its gritty and gutty cousins in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, in Minnesota five days later, and in Nashville on Nov. 27.
“I think we’ve played much more mature on the road this season,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who backstopped Thursday’s win in Ottawa. “I think we’ve learned from our mistakes where we were too hungry to get back in games, and where last year we would open up and not be as patient as we have been this year. And the good part, too, is that we have four lines creating this year, where last year it really was only one.”
As each game presents a different unique challenge, the Rangers have been impressive in finding different ways to win road games this season. Thursday’s version stressed patience and capitalizing on the opposition’s mistakes.
“We play so many hockey games in this league that you’re not always going to be at your best,” said Tortorella. “But the teams left standing at the end of the year find a way to win those hockey games. (Thursday) night we did.”
After a quick practice on Thursday in Ottawa, before traveling to Columbus, Tortorella said that the Rangers might be without two of their players for tonight’s contest against the Blue Jackets. Rugged winger Derek Boogaard was sent back to New York to have his shoulder examined after he landed hard on it when falling to the ice during his fight with Ottawa’s Matt Carkner on Thursday. In addition Boogaard’s nose was broken in the scrap, and he will definitely not play this evening.
Also, defenseman Steve Eminger did not practice on Thursday after suffering a back strain from a check in the third period on Thursday. He was walking gingerly on Thursday and is officially listed as “day-to-day” by the club.
If Eminger can’t play tonight, then Michael Del Zotto would return to the lineup. Del Zotto was a healthy scratch against Ottawa, spending his time working on a “homework assignment”, as Tortorella called it, analyzing the team’s power play from the press box and presenting a written essay about it to the head coach.
“We wanted him to pick apart our power play and pick apart his position,” said Tortorella. “He is a very cerebral kid and I know what he had to say was very extensive. It was (assistant coach) Mike Sullivan’s idea, and it’s good stuff for (Del Zotto).”
Tortorella also spoke highly of several other young players after Thursday’s practice. The head coach said he thought Matt Gilroy “played really well” against the Senators after being scratched in four straight games, and that Derek Stepan had a strong game centering Marian Gaborik and Ruslan Fedotenko on the top line.
“I liked Step’s line a lot,” said Tortorella. “They were good on both sides of the puck, and Gaby had a really good night. We’re still not consistent through our lineup as far as all the people going, but I liked that line and thought they did some good things.”
After tonight’s clash with the Blue Jackets the Rangers head back home where they will host Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals tomorrow night at MSG. Then it’s right back on the road for a battle with the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening.
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