NEW YORK – A preseason final score really means nothing. So when the opening night Rangers beat a Red Wing B-Team 5-1, it’s really just a moral victory and a chance for the players to get their work in.
But hard work now will pay off when the season starts and it seems to be really paying off on the young defenseman in the Ranger lineup.
With Michael Del Zotto a lock to make the team, and scoring a goal tonight and Matt Gilroy and Michael Sauer competing for spots, coach John Tortorella is looking for these young men to be his anchors on the defense.
Tonight they didn’t disappoint.
“(Gilroy) has tried to me more aggressive,” Tortorella said. “As I have said the past couple of days, that’s a point of contention for us as far as defending harder. He is trying. Michael (Del Zotto) made some good plays tonight and stayed within himself. Not looking for the long pass but made some good stretch plays.”
With Wade Redden gone and Marc Staal on the top pair with Michal Rozsival, that will leave a number of chances for players like Gilroy and Del Zotto. Both players, though, will play key roles for Tortorella’s team.
But, of course, it’s early.
“Every game is so different depending on what the other team (is) and what guys they are playing with,” said the beneficiary of a good defense, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “The game was a lot harder in Detroit when they were using their top guys. Hopefully we will take a step in the right direction. I feel every year you get a little smarter and learn the game better. I think that goes for everybody.”
Now the wild card in this whole equation is Sauer, a rookie who is out of options so he needs to go through waivers. Tortorella seemed pretty impressed with 23 year-old.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself and I want to watch the tape,” Tortorella said, “but I know Mike played within himself, which he has done this whole camp and that’s why he is still here.”
Sauer said he worked a lot on his skating this summer, a benchmark of Tortorella camps and tonight he said, “I felt good. I was blocking shots and I didn’t feel out of position. I think that’s part of my game- letting them come to me and making sure they work for everything they get. I did what I could in that respect.”
Of course pre-season is not over and the Rangers have another home-and-home against Ottawa at the end of the week and then another week of evaluation before the season begins on Oct. 9.
So Tortorella will take his time. With nine defenseman still in camp, two will get cut before opening night and the coach promises decisions will be made soon.
“We play a good team against Ottawa the next couple of nights,” he said, “and then some decisions.”
Notes: The Rangers defeated the Red Wings, 5-1, at Madison Square Garden to improve to 3-1-0 in preseason action, including a 2-0-0 mark at home. New York tallied three goals in the game’s opening period, the most the team has tallied in a period this pre-season….The Blueshirts notched one power play goal in five attempts (7:10), and are now seven-for-21 (33.3%) with the man advantage through four pre-season games….Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 35 of 36 shots to improve to 2-0-0 in pre-season action. Lundqvist has stopped 60 of 65 shots faced through two games, registering a 2.48 goals against average and a .928 save percentage over the span….Marian Gaborik opened the game’s scoring one minute into the contest with his team-leading third power play goal of the pre-season. Gaborik, who led the Rangers with 42 goals and 86 points last season, also added his first assist of the pre-season, and has now recorded four points (three goals and one assist) in three games….Sean Avery notched the game-winning goal at 4:39 of the first period, and recorded a plus-two rating in the contest. He finished the home-and-home set against Detroit with two goals….Forward Ruslan Fedotenko tallied the primary assist on the game-winning goal, and finished the contest with two assists and a plus-two rating. Fedotenko is now tied for the team lead with four assists and five points in three pre-season games….Rookie center Derek Stepan registered two points (one goal and one assist) and a plus-two rating in the contest, and has now recorded three points (one goal and two assists) in three pre-season appearances. Last season, Stepan established career-highs with 12 goals, 42 assists and 54 points while skating in 41 games with the University of Wisconsin Badgers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA)….Defenseman Michael Del Zotto notched an even strength goal at 7:34 of the third period, and registered a team-high, four shots on goal in 22:16 of ice time. He is now tied for the team-lead with five points (two goals and three assists) in two games. Del Zotto also registered a plus-two rating and three hits in the contest.