When: Tuesday, December 20, 7:00 p.m.
Opponent: @ New Jersey (18-13-1)
UPDATE: Jeff Woywitka participated in the morning skate but John Tortorella isn't sure if he'll be able to play tonight. Otherwise, the lineup will be the same and Henrik Lundqvist will start in net for New York. (11:56 a.m.)
UPDATE: It looks like the Rangers will catch a break as Devils' leading scorer Patrik Elias won't play tonight. Neither will defenseman Henrik Tallinder. Martin Brodeur will start in net for New Jersey. (10:57 a.m.)
EARLIER: The good news for the Rangers is that No. 1 defenseman Marc
Staal might be cleared for contact by the end of the week. The bad news is that for the foreseeable
future New York will have to go into battle with a woefully thin defense.
Steve Eminger separated his shoulder on Saturday night
against Phoenix and will be out eight-to-10 weeks, joining Staal and Mike Sauer on the shelf with injuries. Making
matters even worse, Jeff Woywitka left Monday’s practice with a foot injury and
is questionable for Tuesday’s match against New Jersey.
To replace their wounded the Rangers recalled physical
blueliner Stu Bickel, a late-blooming 25-year-old that leads the CT Whale in
penalty minutes, and top prospect Tim Erixon, who will play Tuesday in the
event that Woywitka cannot.
If it sounds like the Rangers are about to dress a group of
no-names, it should. Of the seven defenders
that could possibly skate against the Devils, only two – Dan Girardi and Ryan
McDonagh – were assured of top-six spots entering training camp.
Michael Del Zotto won a job out of camp and has had a
tremendous season. He’ll be counted on
like never before in the coming weeks.
The members of the hodgepodge group of Erixon, Bickel,
Woywitka and Anton Stralman, though, will have to prove that they’re not in
over their head.
Girardi, McDonagh and Del Zotto could all approach nearly 30
minutes of ice-time against the Devils, but how Tortorella chooses to deploy
the rest of his rearguard remains to be seen.
Stralman has become a key player after sitting out for weeks
and has played over 20 minutes in each of his last two games. He figures to be a critical piece for the
Rangers going forward after failing to earn a contract from the Devils out of
Woywitka has remained in the lineup despite playing just a
handful of minutes per game, but Tortorella has been adamant about bringing
Erixon along slowly even though he proved earlier this season that he can
handle NHL competition. The organization
would be thrilled to keep Erixon in the press box tomorrow if at all possible.
That leaves Bickel, an afterthought entering the season that
impressed the coaching staff with his snarl.
Bickel was snatched from Anaheim in a deal for forgotten prospect Nigel
Williams, but there had been next to no buzz about him entering the fall or
since camp broke. However, with four
straight rivalry games ahead Bickel could become a very visible player on the
The shabby state of the defense can’t be helped, but the
Rangers now need their offense more than ever.
The team had been rolling on the power play and had several
periods with multi-goal outbursts in recent weeks, but has slowed over the last
New York has gotten by without much from Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle, but the spotlight on those players is growing brighter by the
day as the team searches for a boost.
This isn’t an ideal time to be running into the Devils,
either. New Jersey has won four straight
and six of seven and has generated 26 goals during that stretch. Zach Parise has caught fire after a slow
start to the season and center Travis Zajac returned to the Devils’ lineup last
New Jersey, which many had left for dead, now trails the
Rangers by just three points, making Tuesday’s tilt in New Jersey a critical
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