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Rangers finally get chance to work out the kinks

by Dan Rosen
STOCKHOLM -- Michael Del Zotto had no idea when the New York Rangers last had an actual structured practice.

The answer is exactly one week ago, in Prague. Or, in current Ranger terms, it was four games, four flights and four countries ago.

So the Blueshirts needed Wednesday's workout in the worst way.

"Huge," Del Zotto said with a sigh of relief when asked how important it was to get in a practice at Ericsson Globe Arena. "We got a lot done. We worked on a lot of situations. Today was a productive day."

The Rangers hope to have another one Thursday before opening the regular season Friday against Los Angeles (1 p.m. ET, Versus, TSN) in the 2011 Compuware NHL Premiere.

"It was the best day of work we've had in probably 10 days. You could just tell it was a whole different practice and pace (on NHL-size ice). It's a different game when you're on that (international) ice because everything happens quicker." -- Brad Richards

After playing four preseason games in five nights in four different countries on the bigger international ice, the two practice sessions here on the North American-sized ice are of the utmost importance to the Rangers in regards to their comfort and confidence heading into the season.
All the bad habits that are impossible to get away from on the international ice should be gone by Friday because of these two practices.

"It was the best day of work we've had in probably 10 days," Brad Richards said. "You could just tell it was a whole different practice and pace (on NHL-size ice). It's a different game when you're on that (international) ice because everything happens quicker.

"It felt kind of normal again (Wednesday). Things have been out of whack. It is what it is and we've dealt with it, but this was a great day of work."

The Rangers started their practice around 11 a.m. local time and spent roughly an hour doing drills and some 5-on-5 play. They were battling in the corners and hitting along the boards.

After an ice flood, they came back to work on special teams for another 30 minutes.


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"Everyone was feeling good in the dressing room after we flooded the ice and came back for power play," Del Zotto said. "Everyone felt great about what was done. … It was a really good work day and we have another one (Thursday), so we can go into Friday and Saturday feeling confident about our team here."

In addition to the long, structured practice, several lineup decisions were revealed Wednesday.

The most notable is that Brandon Dubinsky will start Friday's game on the left side of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

John Tortorella was hoping Wojtek Wolski would win that spot because then he would be able to keep the balance in his lineup that he so covets. Moving Dubinsky means moving him away from Artem Anisimov and Ryan Callahan -- and that was a second line that Tortorella really liked.

However, after watching Dubinsky, a physical forechecker, play with Richards and Gaborik in the last two preseason games, it became clear that right now he has to pull from his second line to make his first line better.

Ruslan Fedotenko will be the second-line left wing with Anisimov and Callahan at the start of Friday's game. Wolski likely will skate on the third line, with Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, while Brian Boyle will center the fourth line, skating between Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust.

"I am robbing Peter to pay Paul there because I think Callahan, Dubinsky and Anisimov is a really good line," Tortorella said. "It's something still in my mind that I'm trying to settle with because I really believe in balance. If someone steps up to do that job on the left wing other than Dubi, it gives us more balance, so I'm still striving for that, but we'll start the game this way."

As expected, defenseman Michael Sauer took part in his first full practice since spraining his right shoulder in 10 days ago in Philadelphia.

If the defensive pairs from Wednesday's practice stick, Sauer will open Friday's game on the second pair with Michael Del Zotto, who opened camp just hoping to make the team and now will open the season in a top-four role because No. 1 defenseman Marc Staal (post-concussion symptoms) is not here.

Del Zotto told he's ready to log upwards of 20-plus minutes of ice time.

"He's probably going to start in that area as far as getting some minutes like that," Tortorella said. "I think he's had a very good camp. I think he's stayed within himself. He's done some good things on the power play and he's had some good outlet passes in our exhibition games. But the big thing for Michael is I think he has the right type of confidence about himself now and he's handled himself better."

Staal's absence also means Ryan McDonagh's minutes likely will increase as he'll play on the first pair with Dan Girardi.

McDonagh excelled after getting called up midway through last season, but he has played in only 40 regular-season NHL games, none as a top-pair defenseman.

"I worked hard in the summer to get my conditioning level up and I felt good in the preseason, having my legs," McDonagh told "I played a lot of minutes in those games. It's been a good building process here and I'm excited to start the regular season, for sure."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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