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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
In the face of his team’s most difficult stretch of play this season, Rangers head coach John Tortorella has remained calm and has preached patience.
Although he still remains true to that approach, Tortorella will be making a series of changes to the lineup this afternoon when the Rangers look to snap a six-game winless skid during a matinee at Madison Square Garden against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“There comes a time -- and I think we’re there -- where you feel your team hasn’t done enough things to win a hockey game,” said Tortorella. “We need to find a way to find someone, or a group of people, to help us kick over into a win.”
Following a brief practice on Saturday afternoon, Tortorella announced that 20-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto will be a healthy scratch this afternoon and that veteran defenseman Steve Eminger will return to the lineup for the first time in six games.
Del Zotto has been inconsistent in his play since being recalled from the Connecticut Whale before the All-Star break. During Thursday’s 3-2 loss at Atlanta, he was on ice for the Thrashers’ first goal and in the penalty box when Evander Kane scored the game-winning goal with 2:20 to play in the third period.
“To be fair to him, I think he’s nervous,” Tortorella said of Del Zotto. “I think it’s a situation he didn’t expect, especially how he splashed on here when he first came into the league. Have we solved all the problems? No. But I think he’s moving forward in the process.”
Eminger was lauded earlier in the season by the head coach for bringing much-needed “bite” to the Rangers’ blueline. However Tortorella also said recently that he felt Eminger’s game “had tailed off” of late, prompting him to be scratched in the last five games.
However, this afternoon Eminger is back in the lineup and it will be his turn -- as it previously has been with Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy -- to show that he should remain among the club’s top six defensemen.
Only two days ago, Tortorella praised Gilroy again for how he handled a string of scratches in December and then seized his opportunity to join the top six when he was given the chance to return to game action.
“Gilly handled himself really well when he wasn’t playing a whole bunch, and now he’s a guy we rely on,” the head coach said of Gilroy. “He’s a big part of the team right now.”
Tortorella also is planning on shaking up his forward line combinations this afternoon. On the top line Vinny Prospal is being shifted from left wing to center with Marian Gaborik remaining on the right side. Those two will be joined by the club’s top scorer Brandon Dubinsky, who will play left wing.
Dubinsky -- who has a team-best 19 goals and is one shy of his career-high -- has notched goals in back-to-back games, while Gaborik is coming off a very strong two-point outing on Thursday in Atlanta. Prospal has two points in four games since returning from knee surgery.
By moving Erik Christensen off of the top line, Tortorella said, “I just want to add a little balance to that line defensively … there’s no room for error.”
Tortorella is not exaggerating that there is no room for error. Five of the defeats in the Rangers’ current 0-5-1 stretch were by one goal. And 15 of their past 19 games have been decided by a single goal.
“There is such a fine line between winning and losing in this league because all of the teams are good and capable of beating each other,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 32 saves against the Thrashers. “But right now we just have to focus on getting the next win. We are not that far away. We just have to keep going and give that extra individual performance that will get us over the bump.”
Along with switching the look of the top line, Tortorella has also changed personnel on his three other lines. Brian Boyle will center Ryan Callahan and Wojtek Wolski today, while Artem Anisimov is in the middle of Sean Avery and Derek Stepan. Christensen will center Mats Zuccarello and Brandon Prust.
All of these moves have been made to maximize the best the Rangers can be when they skate against a Penguins squad depleted by injury and suspension at The Garden today. Coming off a brawl-filled 9-3 loss to the Islanders on Thursday, the Penguins will be missing at least eight regulars from their lineup -- including their top three goal scorers in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Chris Kunitz.
The Rangers do not plan on underestimating their opponents today, however.
“Any time you’re part of a loss like that and get embarrassed with nine goals against, you want to respond,” defenseman Marc Staal said of the Penguins. “But I don’t think we approach it any differently. We’ve just got to figure out how to win.”
Following today’s matinee, the Rangers are off until Thursday, when they will host the Kings at MSG. The Rangers then return to action 24 hours later when they skate against the suddenly-hot Devils at the Prudential Center on Friday.
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