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Del Zotto embraces new opportunity

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Game Preview: Rangers Face Caps Tonight

By Jim Cerny,

When the Rangers skate against the Capitals at the Verizon Center tonight, defenseman Michael Del Zotto will make a return to the lineup, playing in the place of the injured Dan Girardi.

Del Zotto, who was assigned to the Connecticut Whale on Jan. 3, was recalled from the AHL after Girardi injured muscles in his rib cage during Saturday’s 3-2 victory at Atlanta.

Rangers head coach John Tortorella emphasized that Del Zotto’s return comes a bit earlier than anticipated, but was necessary because Girardi’s injury left the team with only five healthy defensemen prior to Del Zotto’s recall.

Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto said that being assigned to play in the AHL for Connecticut has already helped him learn a lot about himself and what he must do to succeed at the NHL level.
“He’s getting a lot of minutes down there, has been physical and improved in some areas,” Tortorella said of Del Zotto, 20. “But as far as his overall play, he’s still been inconsistent. To be honest I’d rather have him playing down there, but right now with our situation he was the right guy to call up.”

Del Zotto has recorded seven points -- all assists -- in eight games with the Whale after producing two goals and nine points in 35 games with the Rangers to start the season.

“I have been averaging about 30 minutes a game, playing in all situations, to try and get me back to being more comfortable and consistent on the ice,” said Del Zotto. “I am just taking it a day at a time. I am just working hard every day because that’s all I can do, all I can control. I can’t control how long I’ll be here or what’s going to happen next.”

Del Zotto, whose first game with the Whale included a 10-hour bus trip, said at the morning skate on Monday that he had “learned a lot about myself” over the past three weeks. He also has been regaining some of the confidence which had slipped prior to his being sent down to Connecticut.

“There are a lot of things I’ve learned down there already, and maybe this has been the best thing for me to get back to basics,” said Del Zotto. “I think I’ve made a lot of strides in the right direction.”

As for Girardi, the steady defenseman did take part in Monday’s morning skate and said he “felt better”, but Tortorella explained after the skate that he believed it was important to “protect Girardi” by not playing him tonight.

“If he did play tonight I just don’t think he’d make it through the game and we’d have to play shorthanded,” said Tortorella. “And I don’t want to prolong this injury and make it a bigger issue than it should be.”

Girardi has limited movement in his upper body due to pain in his rib cage area. He suffered the injury -- as well as a broken nose -- during a fight with Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd on Saturday night.

Grachev up from AHL; Prust says he's ready to go

When Del Zotto arrived in Washington on Sunday, he didn’t show up alone. Fellow 2008 draft pick Evgeny Grachev was also recalled from the Whale, because Brandon Prust was hurt in Saturday’s game.

Evgeny Grachev
During Monday morning’s practice, Grachev skated in Prust’s spot alongside Brian Boyle and Chad Kolarik as Prust did not take part at all in the workout. However, after the skate Prust said that he expects to play this evening, and missing the skate was just a precaution.

“I’m good to go,” said Prust, whose foot is very sore after blocking a shot against the Thrashers. “It’s just pain, it can’t get any worse.”

Tortorella later said that he expected Prust to be able to play this evening, as well. He also said that Grachev could still be in the lineup no matter Prust’s situation, and would make a game-time decision between Grachev and Brodie Dupont.

Grachev, 20, has scored six goals in his past three games, and had a hat trick on Saturday. Overall he has scored 12 goals and added six assists in 40 games with the Whale this season.

“He’s really come on,” Tortorella said of Grachev, who was scoreless in six games with the Rangers earlier this season. “He has improved since we sent him back down. He has scored some goals and just overall has played better.”
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