<
>

Decisions looming for Rangers

Coach John Tortorella joked that with all the players coming on the three-game road trip, the Rangers are beginning to resemble a football team.

All joking aside, the Black and Blueshirts are getting healthier with forward Wojtek Wolski and defensemen Jeff Woywitka and Marc Staal closing in on returns. With the team on the mend, some interesting lineup decisions must be made.

Among the question marks: When will Wolski be ready to play? And when he's healthy, is he guaranteed a spot in the lineup?

"I'm not sure," Tortorella said. "We've got some guys playing really well right now and I'm not sure what's going to happen with that."

Hampered in training camp and beyond with a nagging groin injury, the 25-year-old was forced to undergo sports hernia surgery last month. He has not played a game since November 3.

Wolski, who has been practicing regularly with the Rangers over the past week, said he's "happy with the progress" of his recovery and is now waiting for the green light from the coaching staff. To activate him off injured reserve, the Rangers would need to make a corresponding roster move since they are at the 23-man limit. Placing either Sean Avery and/or Erik Christensen on waivers seems to be the likely option since both players have been scratched consistently as extra forwards. Wolski has never seemed to be a Tortorella favorite, either, so he could eventually face the same fate as well . One thing seems certain: John Mitchell isn't going anywhere.

The 26-year-old forward has two goals, four assists in 16 games since his Thanksgiving Day call-up.

"He's pushed some people out of the lineup," Tortorella said.

Defenseman Jeff Woywitka appears ready to come back from a foot injury that has sidelined him the past four games but his replacement -- call-up Stu Bickel -- has fared well in his first NHL stint. Tortorella praised Bickel's tenacity in his debut against New Jersey and said he likes the physical element he brings to the Rangers' back end.

Bickel missed practice Tuesday with a badly swollen eye suffered in a fight with Islanders tough guy Micheal Haley Monday, but should be able to play Wednesday while wearing a protective shield. Assuming both he and Woywitka are available against the Caps, Tortorella will have a tough choice.

"It will be, especially because he's a right-sider," Tortorella said of Bickel. "I'm not sure what im going to do there. And I'll find out as the day goes on there. I dont want to put Jeff on the right side if I take [Bickel] out. We're sifting through that."

Decisions, decisions.