John Tortorella’s response to a question regarding the change shown by Michael Del Zotto was to place his right forefinger on his temple.
“He’s maturing,” Tortorella said.
For a team whose best defenseman is recuperating from post-concussion symptoms — and there is no timetable for Marc Staal’s return — the Rangers are leaning heavily on young defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer and Del Zotto, along with Dan Girardi.
Before last night’s match, Del Zotto ranked fourth on the team in average ice time per game at 21:42 minutes. Del Zotto entered the game with two goals, five points and was plus-six. He assisted on Derek Stepan’s power play goal 10:01 into the second period.
“Michael’s whole cycle here, he came on gangbusters when he first game in as a rookie. There were some tough times the second half of the year and where I have to take some of the responsibility [is] the up-and-down in his play that second half of his first year,” Tortorella said. “Last year was a year — and it happened to a number of defensemen coming into this league their first year; last year a number of them struggled — I think the process helped him.”
Tortorella also pointed to a burgeoning relationship with Brad Richards as benefitting Del Zotto.
“I think they connected right away and then I asked both of them to hang out, especially Michael just to seek some knowledge,” Tortorella said. “It doesn’t even have to be about hockey. I think that’s a big part of Brad Richards being here is lending some of his experience to some of our young guys.”
Return of the Jets
Last night’s match was the first time since Oct. 11, 1995, that the Winnipeg Jets visited Madison Square Garden. This edition of the Jets — the former Atlanta Thrashers — had a 3-1-0 mark against the Rangers last season. The Rangers won the first meeting between the teams, 2-1, at the MTS Centre on October 24. The teams will play twice more this season, Jan. 24 at the Garden and March 28 in Winnipeg.
Stralman on board
Anton Stralman is officially a Ranger. The organization announced the defenseman signed a one-year deal Saturday.
Applause for Messier
Mark Messier received an ovation during a stoppage in play during the first period. Messier, who captained the 1993-94 Rangers to the organization’s first Cup in 40 years, ran the New York marathon yesterday. He finished the race in four hours, 14 minutes and 21 seconds.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.