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Friday, February 1, 2013
Torts: We need to be stronger mentally

By Matt Ehalt

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- John Tortorella wants to see a mental adjustment from the Rangers.

"We have to be stronger mentally. Everything starts there," Tortorella said Friday. "I think that's where this team has really grown as far as its approach and its mental toughness. We are not at that level consistently enough and that's something that needs to improve on before anything improves on the ice. The approach has to change as far as how hard you have to play."

Picked as one of the preseason favorites for the Stanley Cup, the Rangers have been up and down this season. They started 0-2, won three of their next four, and then were shut out for the first time Thursday against Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden. Tortorella took zero positives from that loss and wants to his team rebound Saturday when it visits Tampa Bay.

"I thought we just didn't play well collectively as a group," Tortorella said. "We weren't quick to pucks, they beat us to pucks, we weren't quick in our thinking, it was just one of those games that we were lethargic. Hopefully we'll come back and get some energy in our next game here."

• Rangers forward Chris Kreider (ankle) skated for the third straight day, but does not expect to play Saturday due to a lack of practice. He'll still travel with the team.

Kreider has missed the past three games as he recovers from a bone chip in his ankle. He said he's feeling better, but can't truly measure the progress he's made until he goes through a full practice. His last three days have involved a light skate and two optional practices, and he expects to skate Saturday.

The 21-year-old does not expect to return until he starts fully practicing, believing it to be organizational policy.

Derek Stepan isn't the only player on the second line looking for his first goal, as Carl Hagelin has been held scoreless too. Hagelin had 14 goals and 24 assists last year.

"For me, it's important to be consistent and play well throughout the entire game and a lot of games in a row. I'm not going to get down because I haven't scored a goal," Hagelin said. "That's not the person I am. Always try to stay positive, try to help the team win and whether that's doing a good back check or maybe tiring their (defense) out, all those things matter. Of course you want to score, but I know it's going to come."

• Of the Rangers' 16 goals this season, half have come from the top line combination of Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. The other units simply aren't producing seven games into the year.

"It's having the puck, it's anticipating. To get production you need to get out of your end zone quicker, you need to defend quick enough and get going," Tortorella said. "And when we have really been inconsistent at, through a short part of our season here, is getting our stick on the puck, breaking up plays, getting to loose pucks, winning races, and that's why we haven't had it a lot, especially in the games we have lost. You're really dry as far as the amount of time you have with the puck. That's where guys have struggled as far as putting some points on the board and production."

• Tortorella had no comment about Evgeni Malkin hitting defenseman Marc Staal with his stick Thursday. The two were both penalized for their skirmish and Staal was not happy afterward.

"He tomahawked me right on top of the helmet," Staal said, according to The Record. "He dazed me. I don’t know how that’s not called. I understand we’re battling in front of the net, but he’s hitting down like he’s chopping wood across my head."