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Lack of depth on defense a concern for Rangers

Rangers winger Sean Avery fights off a check

Rangers winger Sean Avery fights off a check from the Capitals' Brian Pothier during the 2009 playoffs. Photo Credit: David L. Pokress

Carrying only six defensemen and with Sean Avery still sidelined, the Rangers will skate this morning at Prudential Center to prepare for the first of six games against New Jersey this season.

Avery, who sprained the MCL in his right knee Sept. 21, took part in an optional skate Sunday and said afterward that it's "a safe bet" that he will dress for Thursday's game against the Capitals.

But the shortage of a depth defenseman might not be resolved by that time, and coach John Tortorella admits he is concerned.

Since the sudden departure of Alexei Semenov before the Washington game Friday, when president and general manager Glen Sather said the Russian veteran's one-year deal was KO'd by Semenov's wife, the Rangers are hunting for a replacement.

Asked if having four young players on defense - and given his sharp cutback of the ice time given to rookies Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto in the third period against Ottawa - underscored the need for a seventh defenseman, the coach said.

"I'm not gonna lie to you, it is a concern,'' he said. "I'm sure something will give sooner or later . . . Obviously, we'd like to try to get some sort of veteran who can help out. You can't force-feed that position continually, as young as we are right now."

"That's why it's taking some time, we want to find the right guy that understands that role while we get to continue to develop our young guys along the way. We need to do our due diligence. To me, if it's a guy who has some warts, as with a young kid in our organization, I'd rather keep it within our organization . . . I don't think that's a really good situation for us."

With the waiver wire drying up and a surplus of forwards in Hartford, it appears that a trade might be the route the Rangers take.

Less of an immediate concern is the power play. Using forwards Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, Ryan Callahan, Enver Lisin and Chris Higgins, the Rangers were 0-for-9 with the man advantage in the first two games, but they came very close to scoring several times Saturday against the Senators. Chris Drury, who scored during a five-on-five in Pittsburgh on Friday and had 55 power-play goals in the previous four seasons, is not on either unit.

"Dru will get some power-play time along the way, but right now, I think those six forwards who are playing it now deserve the time," Tortorella said after a team meeting Sunday morning in Westchester.

"I think Lisin has played very well on the power play and has done some really good things offensively there and five-on-five. Our team has changed a bit as far as personnel. I think he [Drury] will get some time. It's something I'm going to monitor, as far as the finish. To me, he is not a half-wall guy. He's a guy who has done his thing around the net, tipping in goals, banging in rebounds. It's something I have to consider if we don't get finish."

Notes & quotes: The Devils, who lost to the Flyers, 5-2, at home Saturday, were 3-3 against the Rangers last season.

New York Sports