Rangers have coped well without key players

Chris Drury was back in the lineup tonight.

Chris Drury was back in the lineup tonight. (Dec. 16, 2010) (Credit: David Pokress)

TAMPA, Fla. - The Rangers arrived here Thursday with 2010 in the rearview mirror and three games from the midpoint of the season. After scraping together only 87 points last season and missing the playoffs in the final-game shootout in Philadelphia, the Rangers (22-14-2) are on a 100-point pace, their most since 2005-06.

That's a notable accomplishment, given that they've lost Vinny Prospal, Chris Drury, Marian Gaborik and veteran defenseman Michal Rozsival for long stretches. Prospal, the team's second-leading scorer last season with 58 points, has yet to play a game after knee surgery. Drury (twice-broken finger) has played only seven games. Gaborik has missed 14 games and Rozsival nine.

But more injuries have to be overcome, not only in these next two games against the Lightning and Panthers Saturday and Sunday but in the next month. Ryan Callahan (broken hand) probably is out another five weeks and Erik Christensen, who has a right MCL sprain suffered in the win over the Devils on Wednesday night, will be out four to six weeks.

Losing Christensen (6-8-14 in 37 games and 3-for-3 in shootouts) leaves the Rangers a center short. Drury could move from the wing. Dale Weise, 22, the right wing who made his NHL debut in Philadelphia on Dec. 18, is here with the club, having been summoned from the AHL.

The 6-2 Weise, 7-5-12 in 16 games for the Connecticut Whale, had a few good shifts in his 6:43 on ice in Philadelphia. He had a goal waved off because of a questionable "distinct kicking motion" ruling, blasted a shot that was partially stopped by Brian Boucher but trickled just wide of the post, and fought Dan Carcillo in the third period of that 4-1 loss. He is more than likely ticketed for the fourth line.

Mats Zuccarello, the Norwegian rookie who has one assist in the last three games, remains in a prominent role. Neither has the experience and all-around ability of Callahan.

Notes & quotes: The Rangers are 13-6-0 on the road, and with the back-to-backs in Tampa at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and a 5 p.m. Sunday faceoff in Sunrise against the Panthers, backup goaltender Martin Biron (6-2, 2.43 GAA, .911 save percentage) could start against the Panthers. Biron last played Dec. 16 against Phoenix, a 4-3 shootout win. Henrik Lundqvist played in the 11-round shootout loss to the Lightning at MSG on Dec. 23 and is likely to start in the rematch.

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