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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers might be winless in their last four games heading into this evening’s contest against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, but head coach John Tortorella is far from pushing the panic button.
Calm following Saturday’s 2-0 loss in Montreal, Tortorella ran an upbeat and fun practice at the Bell Centre before the team headed to Detroit on Sunday afternoon, and included a video session that featured -- in Tortorella’s words -- “a lot of good stuff” from Saturday’s defeat.
“I don’t think our team should be down,” said Tortorella. “But we need a big play at a key time, or maybe a couple of big plays at key times, to help us kick this thing over here.”
Tortorella’s main message heading into tonight’s contest was that the Rangers need to continue their strong defensive play. He doesn’t want his team taking any shortcuts defensively just because they are struggling on the offensive end throughout the current season-worst 0-3-1 skid.
“We’ve defended very well, and played very well away from the puck, and you can’t lose that part of the game when you go into a losing streak,” said Tortorella. “You have to stay strong away from the puck, and you have to defend first. Hopefully we get someone, or two or three people, going offensively.”
Without showing even a hint of frustration, Tortorella calmly explained after practice on Sunday that he is not unhappy with how the Rangers are playing at present. However, he did emphasize that the club needs to find a way to win these close games.
During their current four-game winless streak, the Rangers have lost three one-goal games, and Saturday’s defeat was in essence a one-goal loss, as well, because Montreal scored an empty-net goal in the final seconds.
“Everyone knows what’s going on, how tight it is (in the standings),” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “We’re getting down to the homestretch here and we’ve got to start putting some wins together. We all know it in here what the standings are, and we all know what has to be done to make sure we make the playoffs.”
Certainly strong goaltending is a prerequisite for any team looking to make a strong stretch run, and the Rangers received a gem of a performance from Martin Biron on Saturday afternoon. Making his first start in nearly two weeks, Biron stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced and ended up with a hard-luck defeat.
Biron is 8-5-0 in 16 appearances this season with a sparkling 2.07 goals against average and .923 save percentage. He has teamed with the club’s No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist (21-17-4, 2.35 GAA, .922 save percentage) to make the Rangers the seventh-ranked defensive team in the NHL.
“This is a time for us to put (Saturday’s) loss behind us and step up and get ourselves going again,” said Biron. “It’s that time of the year. It’s February now. It’s time to play that much better. Losing can’t cut it. We’ve got to do a little bit more and make it turn into big results.”
One important area of their game the Rangers need to improve upon is the power play. Many players believe that the club’s poor showing on four straight power plays on Saturday hurt their momentum and was the difference in the game.
Since Jan. 20, the Blueshirts have scored just three times in 26 power play opportunities.
“It’s like when we get the puck and we’re ready to make a decision, we question the decision in our head and hesitate, and I think that’s just confidence right now,” said Erik Christensen. “Instead of just going with what comes naturally, it’s like we think if that is the right play. But I think we have enough skill to make it work. We just need to get our confidence back and do what comes naturally.”
Christensen became the fifth player to return from injury in the past week for the Rangers when he was back in the lineup on Saturday. Tortorella was clear on Sunday that he did not believe that integrating players back into the lineup has been a problem for the Rangers, but he did concede that it does take some time to get these players back on track completely.
“I think some of the guys coming back in have to get their games where it’s flowing,” said Tortorella. “But I’m going to play the hell out of them until they get their games going.”
Tonight the Rangers face one of the league’s perennial powers, a team that currently leads the Central Division with 68 points. The Red Wings, though have been shutout in each of their previous two games, and like the Rangers, they will be looking to gear up their offense once again tonight.
Following this evening’s contest the Rangers will conclude their three-game road trip in Atlanta with a game against the Thrashers on Friday night.
“Every game is big for us,” said Christensen. “(Monday’s) game will be just as big as (Saturday’s) game was, and it will continue on the rest of the season. We just have to take them one at a time.”
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