On the national front, as expected, realignment was approved for a minimum of three years. There are four divisions: Carolina, Columbus and Washington have been added to the current Atlantic Division, in a unit tentatively known as Division D. Top three teams in each division (12) make the playoffs and remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference. More on all that tomorrow...
Tonight the Blueshirts are here in Winnipeg, and here are the storylines. Each team has 28 points and the Rangers have a game in hand. It’s Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec in net.
Rick Nash, whose 10-game point streak was snapped in the 3-1 loss in Buffalo, was wary of the Jets. “They’ve got guys who can forecheck great, they got some guys with some great skills upfront and their goaltender’s good, so we’ve got to make sure we’re all working…It’s a big game. It seems like the standings are going up and down every single night, so anything can happen. We need a win.” But when asked if he checked the standings every morning, he said: “No, I don’t. Over the years I’ve just found I kind of let them be and go play each game, it makes it easier that way.” Easy to understand, he was with Columbus, a team that made the playoffs once in his career there.
Coach John Tortorella hopes wins on the wall lead to two points.
“We can’t let a loss to stop our progression to finding out exactly what we are,” he said, “and that should be a team that is hard to play against all the time, not only defensively, a big part of it---and I think this is where we’re getting there---is on the boards. That’s where I felt we struggled getting out of the gate, was consistently winning wall battles, learning to protect pucks on the boards. That’s where the game is won or lost and we’re getting better at that.”
A few more:
Roman Hamrlik dresses tonight, but the sixth defenseman’s role is up for grabs.
Tortorella said that Steve Eminger has earned the fifth spot, but the other three players---38-year-old Hamrlik, Stu Bickel and Matt Gilroy are competing for the lone opening.
“It’s crucial that someone steps up in the 5-6 spot,” Tortorella said. “When you lose a guy like Marc Staal (on IR with an eye injury) and you have guys playing minutes that they’re not used to playing, we’d really like to try to get a rotation of six D playing, but we also have to try to win every night. We have a few guys looking to take that spot; I would say Emmy has played well enough to be in the five, but we’d like to get six playing, especially with the amount of games that we have here.” The Rangers play in Pittsburgh Saturday, their first of four games in six days.
Hamrlik, claimed off waivers from the Capitals on March 6, had played two games before being scratched for two, and is working on conditioning with assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld. The defenseman said they have been “some of the most intense (sessions) I’ve ever had.” After he broke his hand while playing for Calgary in the 2005-06 season and missed five weeks, “Darryl Sutter was the coach and had me skating to get back, but this is harder,” Hamrlik said.
Henrik Lundqvist, stickhandler? For most of his career, Lundqvist has been reluctant to venture out of the net to clear pucks. Now he’s trying it more often. “I think Marty’s (Biron) rubbing off on him a little,” Tortorella said. “He’s made some really good plays. His main focus has to be to stop the puck. I don’t want to see him step out of himself, but certainly when you have a goaltender who moves the puck it creates problems for a forechecking team.”
Among the absentees from the optional morning skate at MTS Center: Workhorses Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, who could use the rest, Brad Richards, and Arron Asham, all of whom are expected to play except Asham, who has missed 10 games with back spasms. He skated hard with the team for the first time in weeks on Wednesday and expected to be abck next week sometime.