Monday, December 26, 2011

Rangers Host Islanders Tonight at 7 p.m.; Wolski, Staal Close to Returning

The Rangers and Islanders will get it on at the Garden tonight, as the Atlantic Division-leading Rangers look to push their current winning streak to five games. Including tonight, the Rangers have three more games before their showdown with the Flyers in next Monday's Winter Classic on Jan. 2.

The Rangers are currently just one point behind the Boston Bruins for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and now lead the Atlantic Division with 46 points after their win against the Flyers last Friday. Personally, I don't like to get caught up in looking at the standings this early in the season. As everyone knows, we're a long way away from the end of the season in April and anything can happen between now and then. But that's not to say we should just cast aside what the Rangers have accomplished so far this season. The bottom line is that the Rangers have put themselves in a fantastic position with almost half the season now completed. This is a team that's shown they can play with anybody in the league and has very rarely looked over-matched this season.

As for tonight, expect the same lineup as last game, which means Erik Christensen, Sean Avery and Jeff Woywitka (ankle) will all be scratched.

Finally, some good news from practice today: Marc Staal has been cleared for contact and participated in practice fully today. Staal admitted himself that he wasn't exactly throwing hits or being hit as hard as he would in a real game, but it still a huge, huge step forward for Staal's recovery. How he responds to physical contact will be a big key because if he comes out of that OK, then the only thing he'll really have left to work on is his conditioning. When Staal was asked after practice today, he admitted that he's not quite ready to go back to playing 25 minutes a night like he's capable of and is still getting his legs underneath him.

Wojtek Wolski (sports hernia surgery) also participated in practice today and said he expects to be ready to return to the lineup this week. Where he fits and whether or not John Tortorella chooses to use him are questions that we'll have to wait to have answered. At this point, Wolski seems to just mainly be working on getting his conditioning level back to normal. My personal opinion is that when Wolski is ready to return, he'll probably get a chance to play on a line with Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Wolski has been a 20-goal scorer in the past, and with Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko both struggling to put up points, that left wing spot on the second line is definitely up for grabs. Wolski will definitely get an opportunity to play - whether he takes advantage of it is something we'll have to wait to find out.

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