Richards Out, Hamrlik Arrives

Roman Hamrlik took to the ice for the first time with his new Ranger teammates at the team's morning skate on Long Island Thursday, but the club's alternate captain Brad Richards was not among them, and he will not be able to play this evening when the Blueshirts skate against the Islanders.

Richards, who was driven into the boards on a hit from behind which earned Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta a five-game suspension last Sunday, will sit out his second straight game this evening. He did speak with reporters for the first time since Sunday night on Thursday, however, saying, "I'm pretty fortunate" not to have suffered a more major injury.

"It's not a long-term thing," stated Richards. "It's just I went in pretty hard and I have to let the body regroup a little bit."

The veteran center explained that he has woken each day since Sunday with the hope that he could get out on to the ice, but other than a brief twirl at Tuesday's morning skate, he has been unable to do so.

"It's getting better each day as the week goes," explained Richards. "There's no sense in making it go backwards or not being able to help the team. Overall I am standing here talking about trying to play right now, and that's a few days after (the injury), so I'm pretty fortunate."

With Richards and Arron Asham (back) once again out of the lineup, the Rangers will dress the same 12 forwards as they did in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Flyers. During the skate on Thursday the Rangers skated the same four line combinations during line rushes.

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Whether or not Hamrlik will play and make his Rangers debut this evening is still in question. The 38 year-old veteran defenseman, who was claimed off waivers from the Capitals yesterday, has not played in a game since February 7th.

Despite not being sure of his playing status tonight, Hamrlik expressed his happiness at being picked up by the Rangers.

"I am happy, excited, anxious to play," said Hamrlik after the morning skate. "This is a really good team, one of the best goaltending in the league, and they have some great defensemen that can skate, with lots of speed in the front. I think this team is a solid Stanley Cup contender."

Hamrlik also stated he thought the off-season coaching change in Washington signaled the end of his days as a Capital, even after a very solid playoff performance last spring in which he posted a +8 plus/minus rating and four points in 14 games.

"I wish they could have given me more of a chance to play hockey, but it's in the past and I am looking more ahead," said Hamrlik.

The Rangers lineup will be announced later this afternoon. Should Hamrlik, the former Islander, play against his ex-team this evening, he would wear No. 40.

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One Ranger who will definitely play against his former Islander teammates tonight is Micheal Haley. The rugged winger who made his Blueshirts debut Tuesday night, credited with three hits in  less than five minutes of ice-time, appeared in 43 games with the Isles over the past three seasons. A crowd favorite at the Nassau Coliseum, Haley totaled 151 penalty minutes for the Islanders, and scored two goals and added an assist.

"I'll be trying to keep my emotions in check, for sure," said Haley Thursday morning. "I have some good friends still over there, and the fans always supported me here, but I know the Rangers fans are great and they'll be here tonight, too. It's going to be fun."

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The Islanders enter Thursday's contest winners of two straight, including a decisive, 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night. Head coach Jack Capuano called the Rangers a "strong team," and said it's a good test for his players.

 

"We know what we're up against," Capuano said following his team's morning skate. 

 

When asked how to stop Rick Nash, Capuano stated as with all elite players in the NHL, the plan is to try and limit their chances.

"He's big, he's strong, he's got tremendous reach. You try and contain him," he said. "You know they're going to get their opportunities at some points during the game. That's the way these guys are. We have to make sure we know when he's on the ice."

Capuano announced Evgeni Nabokov will start in net, while Eric Boulton will replace David Ullstrom up front. 

 

John Tavares, who has two goals in the two games between the two teams this season, said the Islanders understand the Rangers have upped their game since their last meeting on Feb. 14 at MSG.

 

"They're playing better," he told reporters after the morning skate. "We have to be ready to play. We've got to be at the top of our game. These games are always great with the intensity and the rivalry, especially in our building. Gotta love the atmosphere and it's going to be a good one."

 

What must the Rangers do in Richards' absence to be successful? What do you think of the Hamrlik pickup? What do you expect from Haley against his former team? Share your thoughts in the comments.