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• Game Notes
• Dubinsky Out with Stress Fracture in Leg
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers have the All-Star break within their sights. However, it will first take them a grueling stretch of five games in seven nights before they can reach the much-welcomed break in the schedule next week.
The crucial stretch begins this evening when the Rangers host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden. It will continue with a three-game road trip -- featuring games in Raleigh, N.C., against the Hurricanes on Thursday, Atlanta vs. the Thrashers on Saturday, and Washington against the Capitals on Monday -- before concluding right back at The Garden with a tilt against the Florida Panthers next Tuesday night.
“At this point of the season all the games just kind of blur together, so you’ve just got to go with it and focus on the one that’s right in front of you,” said winger Brandon Prust. “You go one game at a time, and just make sure you’re ready to battle each and every night.”
The Rangers have done an excellent job this season in focusing on the immediate task at hand, which tonight would mean taking care of business with a rugged Maple Leafs team. Having dropped three of their last four games, the Rangers recognize how important it is to focus on winning tonight.
“We’ve got Toronto up first, and we have to respond,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “I don’t think we’ve lost three in a row too often this year, and we’re not planning on doing that now. We want to respond and have a really good game (tonight) and then move on from there.”
Coming off near-identical 3-2 defeats in Montreal Saturday and at home to the Flyers on Sunday, the Rangers have dropped two straight games in regulation for the first time since Nov. 17-19. The Blueshirts have lost three in a row only once this season, between Oct. 11-18, when they dropped a pair in regulation and one in overtime.
To avoid a second three-game skid the Rangers need to have a better start this evening and play a more complete 60-minute game. In each of their last two defeats, the Blueshirts fell behind early in mistake-driven first periods, only to have their impressive third-period comebacks fall short both nights.
“We’ve done some good stuff in coming back and nearly tying things up, but our starts have to be better,” said Prust. “We have to make sure we come out of the gates a little better. Teams are too good in this league to come back from a couple goals down. We have to take our strong finishes and put them into the full 60 minutes.”
It is likely that Prust and his usual center, Brian Boyle, will have a new linemate tonight. With their usual left wing Ruslan Fedotenko likely skating on a different line with Marian Gaborik this evening, Prust and Boyle will welcome the team’s leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky to their line.
“When we changed the lines last game, I thought Boyle, Prust, and Dubi were really good,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “So we’ll go with that again (tonight). Plus I like Feds with Gaby because Feds is so strong on the puck.”
Tortorella is looking for Gaborik to get going offensively. A 42-goal scorer a year ago, Gaborik has just 11 goals in 33 games played this season. He has gone eight games without scoring a goal, notching just two assists during that span.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the Rangers as a team have struggled to score at the same time that Gaborik has not been able to find the back of the net. The Rangers have scored just 14 goals in their previous nine games entering play tonight.
“Gaby’s a pro, and he understands what is expected of him,” said Tortorella. “He’s in a bit of a funk here, but he’ll get out of this. He’s too good a player to continue to go down this road as far as the slump that he is in. He’s a good man, and he wants to help the team. And that’s the good thing here. And I believe in the big picture he’s going to.”
In the 3-2 loss to the Flyers on Sunday, the line of Derek Stepan, Wojtek Wolski, and Mats Zuccarello accounted for both goals and all six points recorded by the Blueshirts. That line, which impressed its head coach on Sunday, will also remain intact this evening.
“Even in the second period when we put them together you could see that they controlled the play and had the puck a lot, and that’s even before they scored twice in the third period,” said Tortorella. “Zuc was hitting, Step was hitting. And that created a lot of room for them. Wolski was really strong on the puck. It’s skillful as far as how they scored their goals, but to start the offense and to get possession they finished their checks and took off from there.”
Tonight marks the fourth and final meeting this season between the Rangers and Maple Leafs. The Rangers are 2-0-1 vs. their Original Six foes this season, winning twice up in Toronto and dropping a 4-3 overtime decision in the home opener back on Oct. 15.
Immediately following tonight’s game, the Rangers will make the season’s first visit this to North Carolina for an important game against the Hurricanes.
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