NEW YORK – Eight hours before tonight’s Original Six matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers, Wojtek Wolski finally arrived in New York after being traded from Phoenix yesterday afternoon for defenseman Michal Rozsival. He was only about 12 hours late.
His flight yesterday from St. Louis got cancelled due to the same weather system now blanketing the New York City area under a foot of snow, forcing him to fly this morning.
After arriving at Westchester Airport at 11 a.m., and a quick trip to the Rangers practice facility in Greenburgh, Wolski didn’t arrive at his hotel until 2 p.m.. After a quick nap, Wolski walked into Madison Square Garden in time to talk to the media around 4:45 p.m., and put his new Rangers jersey on for the first time.
Before suiting up for New York for the first time, Wolski had never before played for an Eastern Conference team after five seasons with Colorado. He finished last year with Phoenix and began this season with the Coyotes before being traded by ‘Yotes General Manager Don Maloney to New York.
“I think when we played Eastern Conference teams it’s been more of a run-and-gun, three-on-two’s and speed through the neutral zone and stuff like that,” Wolski said before the Rangers fell to the Canadiens 2-1. “Whereas the Western Conference is a lot more focused on the trap and kind of slowing everything down in the neutral zone.”
Wolski had two great chances to bookend the game. The first, 3:50 in, was set up by Marian Gaborik. Wolski’s one-timer was stopped by Montreal goaltender Alex Auld (25 saves). The second, with three minutes left in the game, saw the puck sneak behind Auld, but it was cleared off the goal line.
“I thought it did go in. I thought if it didn’t, we’d get the rebound,” Wolski said of a play that nearly rescued a point for the Blueshirts (25-16-3). “It kind of just went into a position where we couldn’t react to it. Sometimes it works out that way. Hopefully next time, it goes in.”
“We know what we got when we got him,” said Brandon Dubinsky after the game. “He’s a talented guy who can put the puck in the net. Obviously, hopefully moving forward he’s going to move in that situation.”
Wolski barely had time to talk to Rangers coach John Tortorella before the game, after missing the optional morning skate due to his travel problems. The message, though, was simple.
Tortorella just wanted Wolski to play – the time for teaching will come later.
“When you’re thinking of the defensive side of the game, it’s always great to have some sort of guidelines and a system you want to work with,” Wolski said after the game, wearing his new pair of Rangers flip-flops. “It makes it a lot easier for guys to read off you and for you to read off your teammates. When it comes to offense, you can have a simple guideline, but most of it is just instinct and going to where you think the puck is going to go.”
“He certainly was around the puck, had a number of opportunities to score, I thought played hard,” Tortorella said of the newest Ranger. “You can see his talent level. I thought he played a good game.”
“They did a good job of not trying to overdo it on some systems,” Wolski said of the Rangers coaching staff. “I think they realize it’s a lot of information and I was trying to do my best to follow what they showed me before the game. Most of that will happen tomorrow, during practice, and after practice watching video and learning from mistakes.”
Wolski, after a career-high 23 goals and 65 points last year, signed a two-year contract at $7.6 million in the offseason. He didn’t live up to expectations in Phoenix, starting the campaign with only six goals and ten assists. He had more points in the last 18 games for Phoenix last year (6-12-18) than he’s had in 36 games this season.
“I like to create plays, create opportunities for myself and for my linemates,” Wolski said in explaining his game. “I’m happy to play on the power play to score big goals. I’ve come to realize that making sure I’m better in the [defensive] zone will definitely benefit me. My defensive zone will better me offensively.”
Wolski said he didn’t know many Rangers, aside from playing against Marc Staal and Ryan Callahan in Canadian Juniors.
“I definitely know they’re a hard-working group,” Wolski said during his pre-game press conference. “Whenever you’re watching games, you hear the commentators always talk about how they’re blocking shots and doing all the little things. At the same time, they’re young and exciting to watch and are offensive. I think I can fit in pretty well.”