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• Notebook: Staal Out, Fedotenko Back In
• Game Notes
• Complete MSG2 Channel Listings
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Coming off a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Carolina on Tuesday night, the Rangers play another important road contest this evening against a quality Eastern Conference opponent when they face the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.
Whether or not the Rangers will have their top defenseman in the lineup against Washington’s elite forwards, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom, remains to be seen, however.
Marc Staal injured his left knee early in the first period on Tuesday, and was forced out of the game for good in the third period because it “did not feel strong enough”. Despite saying that his knee did feel better two days later, Staal did not take part in practice on Thursday, and on the game-day morning skate, the decision was made to keep him out of the lineup for tonight's game.
“I don’t want to go out there and push too hard where I could make it worse, but I realize we are getting near the end of the season and every game is a big game,” said Staal, who has played in all 62 Rangers’ games this season. “The knee is still sore, so we’ll just see how it is (on Friday).”
Staal also explained, after receiving treatment on Thursday, that the ferocious check delivered to him by his brother Eric late in the second period on Tuesday did not further injure his knee. Staal also contended that his brother’s check, which caught him up high near the head, was within the legal boundaries of the game.
“It wasn’t a dirty play by him,” said Staal. “Obviously he didn’t have to absolutely drill me, but it’s just part of the game. We play against each other pretty much every shift, and we play hard against each other, just like against anyone else. I’m OK with it.”
While Staal will miss his first game of the season tonight, veteran winger Ruslan Fedotenko is ready for a return to the lineup. Fedotenko, who has been sidelined due to an injured shoulder and an appendectomy, took part in a full team practice on Thursday, and looked very good in the eyes of his head coach.
“Feds is a possibility to play, and we’ll make that decision in the morning,” said John Tortorella. “He did some battling (Thursday) and feels pretty good. I just want to see how he feels (Friday) morning from doing the battling.”
The Rangers will once again play without star sniper Marian Gaborik, who remains back in New York after suffering a concussion. Tortorella said that Gaborik has undergone a series of tests, and is also undergoing blood tests to determine if there are any “deficiencies”.
With Gaborik ailing, the Rangers will continue to look throughout their lineup for goal production. One player who has stepped up his offensive game of late is winger Wojtek Wolski, who has been rewarded by Tortorella with more than 20 minutes of ice-time in each of the last two games.
Wolski has scored in each of the past two games, including the game-tying goal with 1:50 remaining in regulation against Carolina. He also added the game-deciding goal in the 4-3 shootout victory over the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
“He’s been our best forward the last two games,” Tortorella said of Wolski, who turned 25 on Thursday. “We know he’s a talented young player that we want to see develop to be able to do more. And he will get the opportunity to do more by playing hard consistently. He’s really interesting to me because if we can keep him playing at a high level there’s a lot of things there with him.”
Wolski explained that he has worked hard to earn the trust of the coaching staff by improving his play away from the puck and in the defensive zone, and by meeting Tortorella’s standards for consistent effort. As a result, he has earned more of an opportunity to play a big role on the club, and has seized on that chance of late.
“I think I am starting to figure it out,” said Wolski. “I have been putting in the effort in practice. And I think when you do that, then you are ready mentally. This team pays the price every night, so I have to make sure that I contribute, and do what I do best which is to contribute offensively. I am doing my best to help in all areas.”
Tonight, the Rangers seek their 19th road win of the season against a Capitals’ team that is a solid 17-7-7 on home ice. Both teams have a lot to play for. The Rangers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 68 points, three better than Carolina, which is right behind them in eighth place. And the Caps are trying to catch the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division, which would jump them from fifth in the East to the second seed.
“That’s the thing about this time of year, everyone has something important to play for,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “But it’s important that we just worry about ourselves and take care of our own business.”
Following tonight’s game the Rangers return to Madison Square Garden for a three-game homestand, which commences with a matinee against the Lightning on Sunday afternoon.
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