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• Game Notes
• Rangers Assign White to Connecticut
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight in Newark, the Rangers kick off a three-game road trip when they skate against the Devils at the Prudential Center. This evening’s contest will close out calendar year 2010 for the Rangers, because their next game will take place on Jan. 1 at Tampa.
While the closing out of a year is often time to reflect back on certain things, Rangers head coach John Tortorella is more focused on preparing his team for the present, as well as for the important second half of the season.
“I still think we are climbing the hill in understanding being ready at all times,” said Tortorella. “No matter who we play, we are still learning and taking steps in the right direction -- which I think we’ve done -- of always being prepared to play.”
That becomes particularly important this evening, when the Rangers face a struggling Devils team that finds itself sitting in last place overall in the NHL standings with only 20 points in 35 games. Just as they did not underestimate the next-to-last-place Islanders in a 7-2 victory on Monday night at Madison Square Garden so, too, can’t the Rangers take the slumping Devils lightly tonight.
The Devils, who have scored the fewest goals in the league with just 61, have lost five games in a row. In those five games, they have scored just once in each contest. In the month of December, the Devils have lost 10 of 11 games, totaling 13 goals in their ten defeats.
But with former head coach Jacques Lemaire having recently replaced the fired John Maclean as bench boss in New Jersey, the Rangers know that the Devils will be ready to battle this evening.
“We are going to play a Jersey team that I’m sure is going to be ready to play, even with some of the situations they’ve gone through,” said Tortorella. “They have had some time with Jacques now, so they’ll be ready. But we’re just going game by game now, trying to be the best we can be each game.”
The Rangers enter play tied for the NHL lead with 12 road victories. Overall the Rangers are 4-1-1 coming into tonight’s game after their runaway victory over the Islanders on Monday. In that game six different Blueshirts scored goals, and 12 recorded at least one point -- with road roommates Matt Gilroy (two goals) and Brian Boyle (three points) leading the way.
With three points (2-1-3) in two games since being reinserted into the lineup, Gilroy is making a case to remain among the top six defensemen. Following practice on Tuesday Tortorella praised Gilroy’s play on both sides of the puck and even said that Michael Del Zotto -- whose spot in the lineup Gilroy has taken for now -- might benefit from some time with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale.
Del Zotto will not play tonight and, in fact, did not practice on Tuesday because he received a cortisone shot to relieve some pain in his groin/lower stomach area. The shot is seen as a precautionary move by the team, and Del Zotto should be back at practice shortly.
“Gilly looks comfortable, and hopefully he can stay consistent with that,” said the head coach. “While he was out he really thought about what it was he was going to do when he got back in there, you can tell that. He’s been real good offensively and real good defensively, too.”
As for Del Zotto, he has taken a very positive outlook to these recent developments.
“These are bumps in the road, but it’s all part of the learning experience and it’s only going to make me a better player,” said Del Zotto. “Every day I have something to prove, and all I can control is how hard I work.”
While Gilroy looks to remain in the lineup long-term, so, too, does rookie winger Mats Zuccarello, who has impressed in the first two games he has played since being recalled from Connecticut. Zuccarello has recorded one assist in the two games, but has created numerous other scoring opportunities -- both for himself and his teammates -- with his superior creative play.
Tortorella has expressed on multiple occasions how impressed he is with Zuccarello’s skill-set and on-ice intelligence. The coach is quite intrigued with how Zuccarello may fit in with the Rangers moving forward into the second half of the season.
“This is what I have lived for since I signed that contract over the summer, to have a realistic chance to play in this league,” said Zuccarello. “Now that I have reached it I want to stay here as long as I can and be a part of the team. This is the highest step you can get in hockey and I want to be here and compete at this level.”
While Tortorella used Zuccarello on the left side of Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik in Monday’s game, the Rangers coach is not sure what his line combinations will look like tonight. He does, however, know that it was exciting to see that much pure skill on one line at the same time.
“Zuc is a kid with great talent, and he’s a pretty smart player, too,” said Tortorella. “I’m not sure where he fits long-term yet, but we are going to give him every opportunity to succeed here. Kids like Zuc are going to get the chance because it’s incumbent on our organization to build from within with youth.”
Following this evening’s clash with the Devils, the Rangers head to the Sunshine State for games Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Sunday vs. the Florida Panthers. The Blueshirts then return home to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan.5 at The Garden.
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