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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Since being recalled from the Connecticut Whale during the first week of January, rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh
has done nothing but impress with his intelligence, work ethic, and most importantly, his play at the National Hockey League level.
Tonight, with Marc Staal
out with a knee injury as the Rangers face the Capitals at the Verizon Center, McDonagh will likely face the biggest challenge of his young pro career when he pairs with Dan Girardi
on the team’s top defensive pairing, looking to contain Washington’s top forward line, led by superstar Alex Ovechkin.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella believes that McDonagh -- who has just 21 games of NHL experience -- is up to the task.
|Rookie Ryan McDonagh will step up to the Blueshirts' top defense pair, joining Dan Girardi for tonight's game at the Verizon Center, where he will likely see a lot of Washington star Alex Ovechkin. |
“I think he thinks the game and understands positioning, and he has top-end (skating) speed and such great quickness,” Tortorella said of McDonagh. “His quickness is so key because when he does make a mistake he can get back to where he needs to be. There are a lot of plusses in his game. I’m not surprised by him, but I am excited as hell about him.”
McDonagh, 21, has played in 21 games with the Rangers, posting an impressive plus-6 plus-minus rating to go along with four assists. He has logged more than 20 minutes of ice-time in four of the last five games, as Tortorella has gained more and more confidence in him. And he played a season-high 24:55 in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Carolina on Tuesday night.
“I think he is very smart, and to go along with that he has a great ability to skate and make plays,” said Michael Sauer
, who has been McDonagh’s defense partner. “He gets great position on guys and can really angle guys off, which is a big thing up here. He rarely gets beat.”
Of course, no matter how well McDonagh plays tonight, the Rangers will surely miss Staal, the All-Star defenseman who will be sitting out for the first time since Feb. 17, 2008. Staal, who leads the team with an average ice-time of 25:37 per game, had played in 247 consecutive games with the Rangers, but he hurt his knee in Tuesday’s victory and was still too sore today to even attempt skating.
“I’m disappointed,” said Staal, after receiving treatment this morning. “I’ve been lucky to have had good health through the start of my career. But I think it’s best in the long run (not to play tonight) to make sure that the knee is good to go.”
Both Tortorella and McDonagh made it a point this morning to mention that it will take a full-team effort to compensate for the absence of Staal tonight.
“He’s humongous to this team,” McDonagh said of Staal. “It starts with him being assistant captain and being a leader on the team, and a big-time player on the back-end. He does it all, and his ability speaks for itself. All the guys have to step up (tonight).”Fedotenko returns to lineup tonight
While Marc Staal
and Marian Gaborik
will be missing from the Rangers’ lineup this evening, one key veteran is set to make his return. Ruslan Fedotenko
, who last played on Jan. 19 against Toronto, announced this morning that he will be able to play tonight against the Capitals.
“I feel better every day,” said Fedotenko, who has missed 14 games due to a shoulder injury and an appendectomy. “And I feel like I need to play. I need to contribute and help the team. Whatever I can bring, I will do that, and do my best.”
Tortorella is thrilled to get the two-time Stanley Cup winner back in the lineup, especially at this crucial stage of the season.
“He’s an important guy,” Tortorella said of Fedotenko. “He goes very unnoticed as far as some of the injuries we’ve had. But we have missed him. He’s a hard player to play against, and he doesn’t get enough credit that he’s a hard body checker. I want to get him back in and get going in all situations.”