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Derek Stepan-Evgeny Grachev? Worth a try


Rangers host Canes tonight in first of back to back, with a visit to Toronto Saturday. 

Meanwhile, from yours truly on today's Newsday/, a modest proposal:


John Tortorella likes to say that he coaches with his gut. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

On Monday night, Tortorella and his coaches defied the odds and opted for goaltender Martin Biron over Henrik Lundqvist, who had played 141 of the last 146 home games, and with Biron surrendering two stoppable goals, the Rangers fell 6-4 to the Thrashers. The team was flat for long stretches as well, but a three-game winning streak was over.

The coach has another chance to go with his gut tonight when the Rangers host the Carolina Hurricanes. He can play winger Evgeny Grachev, who was summoned from Hartford yesterday, with rookie center Derek Stepan, a combination that was very effective in prospect camp and the annual Traverse City tournament in September. Whether he chooses that option---and gives the two decent minutes together---is the question.

Grachev is here because Derek Boogaard has a finger infection from Saturday’s fight with the Bruins’ Shawn Thornton. The two 20-year-olds won’t have a chance to practice together before tonight’s game, but were terrific in a scrimmage back on June 30, when Grachev, playing on the wing, notched a hat trick and Stepan, who left the University of Wisconsin to turn pro, scored twice.

“It was really enjoyable,” said Grachev, who skated in Hartford last season and was 12-16-28 in 80 games. “I’d love to play with him for the Blueshirts.” Then in Traverse City in September, Stepan was 2-5-7 and Grachev 4-1-5 in four games, but while Stepan continued to impress in training camp and made the club, Grachev faltered and was assigned to Hartford. The Russian hasn’t exactly been lights out there either, with just a goal and assist in nine games.

With an MRI clearing center Artem Anisimov, who injured his right ankle blocking a Thrasher shot, the first line with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan remains together. But veteran center Todd White could replace inconsistent Erik Christensen between Alex Frolov and Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle, who got some of Stepan’s minutes in the third period, could skate with Sean Avery and Ruslan Fedotenko.

That would leave Grachev, Stepan and Christensen on the fourth line, a unit to which Tortorella has assigned very few minutes, perhaps because the 6-7, 267-pound Boogaard’s skating leaves something to be desired. Without Boogaard, maybe a new trio can earn more. Just a gut feeling.




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