PRAGUE -- Michael Del Zotto and Tim Erixon were noticeable all game as they helped the Rangers to a 2-0 win against HC Sparta Prague on Thursday. Del Zotto had a key assist on Ruslan Fedotenko's power-play goal and Erixon was credited with a pair of assists -- his most important play was the pass that set up Artem Anisimov for the Rangers first goal.
However, Rangers coach John Tortorella wasn't exactly throwing out the superlatives to his two young defensemen, who are still trying to make the opening night roster.
Tortorella said evaluating Del Zotto and Erixon off Thursday's game is tough because of the larger international ice surface. Both are skilled skaters and puck-movers -- the kind of players who are always going to fare better when they have more room to operate.
"There is more room and it's hard to take time and space (away)," Tortorella said. "You could see we struggled with that in the first period. When we start playing in North America there is not going to be a lot of room -- and these situations, Michael and Erixon, players like that, are going to have to thrive in if they want to continue to get ice time.
"But they did some good things (Thursday)."
Tortorella already knows what Del Zotto is capable of in an NHL game on NHL-sized ice. Erixon is coming to the Rangers from Sweden, so he was noticeably more comfortable on the larger surface because that's all he knows.
That said, Tortorella did give the kid some praise, an obvious sign of how badly he wants Erixon to make the team.
"He's improving," the coach said. "He's playing a system that he hasn't played before. We've asked him to do some things he's not comfortable with. He's improving along the way here."
It's highly probable that both Erixon and Del Zotto will play again Friday in Gothenburg. The ice sheet will again be big, but there's nothing the coach can do about it.
"It's a puck-control type of situation where you're not going to have a lot of the same puck-control when you play in a North American arena," Tortorella said. "It's a different game playing in a big rink. My biggest fear is we don't get into bad habits because we're going to be playing on small ice once the season starts."