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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will play their 41st game -- reaching the official midpoint of the 2010-11 season -- when they host the Carolina Hurricanes in an important Eastern Conference matchup.
The Rangers currently reside in seventh place in the East. With 47 points, they are two up on eighth-place Montreal and six ahead of the ninth-place Hurricanes.
“We say it all the time, but it’s true, every game here is so important because the teams are so close to one another,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is expected to start this evening after watching Martin Biron play very well in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Panthers down in Florida. “You can’t afford to let points slip away.”
Coming off a virtual split of their three game road trip -- a win over the Devils, an overtime loss to the Lightning, and the regulation loss to the Panthers -- the Rangers return home tonight with a bit of a different look after defenseman Michael Del Zotto was sent down to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Connecticut on Monday, and 21 year-old rookie Ryan McDonagh was recalled.
The Rangers are looking for Del Zotto, 20, to regain his top form in the minor leagues, while also affording the coaching staff the chance to evaluate McDonagh, who is a top prospect in the organization.
“It’s always a whirlwind in this sport,” said McDonagh following his first practice with the team on Tuesday. “I am happy to be getting a taste of the NHL, and hopefully it’s going to be for a long time.”
Rangers head coach John Tortorella has emphasized over the past two days that, while it is important that McDonagh is up with the big club and can be evaluated in practices, there is the chance the youngster will not see any game action while he is with the Rangers. That’s because Tortorella is committed to giving Matt Gilroy an opportunity to play on a regular basis while Del Zotto is in Connecticut.
Gilroy, 26, has appeared in four of the last five games, notching three points (2-1-3) in that span. He has played with more confidence in his all-around game, something that the young defenseman says has been fostered through the support of his head coach.
“Torts stuck with me, and hopefully I can build off his trust and gain more and more,” said Gilroy. “My confidence is back, and his confidence in me has helped with that. That’s the biggest difference for me, I think.”
While Tortorella has been impressed with Gilroy’s play of late, he is equally as impressed with how the Long Island native handled being scratched in eight of 10 games back in early December.
“He handled himself well,” Tortorella said of Gilroy. “He certainly wasn’t running around being the social chairman. He was upset he wasn’t playing, but he certainly wasn’t affecting the team or dragging anyone down. He just kept himself ready and has improved. Mentally, he stayed together, and then he improved his game.”
The Rangers received good news on Tuesday when winger Ruslan Fedotenko was able to take part in the complete practice just two days after blocking a shot with his right hand and being forced out of that game versus the Panthers.
Although he feared the hand was broken, Fedotenko found out that it was just badly bruised, and he plans to play in tonight’s game.
“I am relieved it’s not four-to-six weeks and it’s just a day-to-day thing,” said Fedotenko on Tuesday. “I’m good to go (tonight). We’ll do our magic, so I’ll be ready to play.”
Tortorella is relieved, too. He has been thrilled with what Fedotenko has brought to the team this year and considers the veteran two-time Stanley Cup winner an extremely vital member of the squad.
“It was just a great signing for us,” Tortorella said of Fedotenko, who attended training camp on a tryout basis. “He’s grown into a guy I use in all situations. You have to consider (Brian) Boyle’s line as one of our top lines now, and Feds plays on that line. He’s been a big part of our team this year.”
Tonight’s contest is the Rangers’ lone home game in a 14-day stretch. After struggling on home ice to begin the season, the Rangers are up over .500 at home (9-8-2) and are 7-3-1 in their last 11 games played at The Garden.
Following tonight’s tilt with the ‘Canes, the Rangers head back to the road for games in Dallas on Friday and St. Louis on Saturday.
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