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Rangers struggling with offensive opportunities

It is not the quantity of shots on goal that John Tortorella is concerned with.

It is not the quantity of shots on goal that John Tortorella is concerned with. It is not even the quality of shots that keeps the Rangers coach up at nights.

In fact it was the last topic he wanted to speak about prior to the Rangers’ 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh Thursday night at the Garden.

“Should we be shooting more?” Tortorella asked rhetorically before his team was outshot 35-30. The Rangers did not record their first shot on goal until the 9:21 mark of the first period when Brandon Dubinsky attempted to shovel a shot under Marc-Andre Fleury. Before Dubinsky’s shot, Pittsburgh enjoyed an 8-0 advantage.

Tortorella became marginally more expansive on the topic as his pre-game press conference progressed.

“You’re always looking to shoot the puck more on the power play,” Tortorella said. “I just don’t want to get into a long conversation about shooting the puck.”

The Rangers entered last night’s match 15-4-0 in the 19 games in which they have outshot opponents. Not coincidentally, they had lost 10 of the 23 games in which they were outshot.

The Rangers are No. 23 in shots, ahead of just Calgary, Nashville, Washington, New Jersey, Minnesota, Edmonton and Anaheim. Of those seven teams, only Nashville, Washington and the Devils are currently in the top eight in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

Moreover, the Rangers are No. 24 of the National Hockey League’s 30 teams with a power play that is successful only 14.3 percent of the time, despite the presence of the NHL’s fourth-leading goal scorer in Marian Gaborik, a premier set-up center in Brad Richards and a burgeoning talent in defenseman Michael Del Zotto.

“I look at it two ways,” Tortorella said of the power play that had 22 goals in 154 man advantage opportunities. “It’s not going that well, but we have to get it going. The only way to get it going is going out there and doing it. I also think if we do get it going some of our offensive players — we’re not dead on offensively — it may help them. When it’s horses—, they may not want to do it.

“Just step by step, gain momentum,” Tortorella added.

The Rangers are acutely aware that they are not the most talented team and that they have to outwork opponents in order to win. Offensively that means forechecking and cycling the puck.

Yet there are times when teams have to take advantage of openings. Midway through the second period of the Rangers’ 3-0 win over Nashville Tuesday night, Gaborik and John Mitchell had a 2-on-1. Gaborik passed on the shot, opting to set up Mitchell. Nashville goaltender Anders Lindback easily snared Mitchell’s shot.

“His call,” Tortorella said of Gaborik’s decision.

Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.

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