As I pointed out to one of our followers on Twitter, regardless of whether the it’s a win or a loss, the Washington Capitals always bring out the best in the New York Rangers. Between Ovechkin, Semin, Backstroom, Green, Johansson, and the others, the Capitals blow the Rangers away in terms of skating, finesse, and overall skill with the puck. Thus, the Rangers have no choice but to counter with a north-south, gritty game, which is the style that suits them best to begin with. It’s not as if the Rangers were overwhelming the opposition with tic-tac-toe plays earlier in the season, when they were winning most games. This is a team that has had success this season by outworking the opposition but also outsmarting them. Hard work is for naught if the work isn’t going towards productive causes. The Rangers tonight did what they had to do and shut down Washington’s scoring lanes while willing the puck into Washington’s zone. This is as close as you can get to a flawless victory. Some penalties here and there and a few minor defensive lapses, but that Rangers played tonight like they haven’t been for the past month and the results show they were greatly rewarded for that. Lets look at the post-game notes:
Henrik Lundqvist- Granted, the Rangers did an excellent job limiting the number of high-probability shots Washington had tonight, but 35 saves is still 35 saves. Even if they’re mostly perimeter shots, if you get that many then you should expect to at least put a couple in. Lundqvist didn’t have to be spectacular tonight but did the job that he had to do and didn’t allow Washington to get any momentum. The few times Lundqvist did have to bail the defense out, he did so, and he was especially key in leaving the Capitals empty handed on all five of their powerplay attempts. Lundqvist recorded his 8th shutout on the season, which puts him in 1st place in the NHL. It was also the 32nd of his career.
Erik Christensen- Look who decided to show up for tonight’s game. Christensen had two goals and two assists in what was probably his best game as a Ranger. Both goals were simply the result of Christensen positioning himself between the face-off circles and quickly putting it on net. His pass to Boyle on the final goal of the game was simply a great effort by him. This isn’t something Rangers fans should be shocked about. Everyone knows that Christensen has plenty of skill. It’s unfortunate that he only can show up on the scoreboard every so often. Obviously, the Rangers needed the production tonight, but perhaps his performance tonight will be enough to convince another team to want him in a trade.
Ryan McDonagh- Wasn’t perfect tonight, and anyone who expected him to be should get their head checked. Ovechkin showed him why he’s one of the best players in the game and and made a move around him, forcing McDonagh to take a penalty. That said, he played as well as anyone could have anticipated and did his part to keep not only Ovechkin, but Washington as a whole off the scoreboard. In related news, Scott Gomez has only 7 goals and 30 points so far this season and Montreal is rumored to by trying to shop him off to anyone that will take him. Montreal also could use some help on defense with Markov, Gorges, and now Spacek all hurt. Think they regret that trade right about now?
Dan Girardi- His face took a beating in the process, but Dan Girardi stepped up in the biggest way possible tonight in a game where he needed to be the Rangers’ best defender. Girardi was blocking shots and passes all over the place, didn’t let anyone near Lundqvist, and got the puck out of the zone successfully. Despite how reliable he is, Girardi is prone to making costly mistakes, and he didn’t let that happen tonight. 3.325 million per year until 2014 is beginning to look like a great deal right now.
Brian Boyle- In games where the Rangers needed a forward to step up, Brian Boyle has been up to the task the whole season. He wasn’t one of the three stars but he deserves mention for sure. He won 8 of 14 faceoffs, blocked 5 shots, and was consistent on the forecheck, which he specifically was a catalyst for on the play that led to Christensen’s first goal of the game. He deserved the goal at the end of the game if only to reward him for his work in the first 59 minutes that was crucial to the team’s success but won’t show up in the highlights. Boyle now has 20 goals this year after having 12 in his whole career before this season. To all two of you in the world who predicted that Brian Boyle would be the first Ranger to score 20 goals this year, congratulations.
Derek Stepan- The second best forward on the ice tonight next to Christensen. A goal and assist for him tonight. More notably, though, was the coming-out party for Derek Stepan’s physical game. Who knew that Mr. Glee had a mean streak to him? After getting hit from behind by Mike Green, Stepan returned the favor to Green with a questionable hit of his own (we’ll address this later) and also laid out Ovechkin soon after. Stepan has never been a soft player, but he never has gone out of his way to be physical like he did tonight. I wouldn’t expect that every night, but finding a way to bring that to his game every so often will increase his importance to this team even more. Stepan is the kind of player that will never be the best or even second best player on the team, but will consistently be a difference maker. Think of someone like Ryan Kesler or Joe Pavelski.
As far as Stepan’s hit on Green, yes, it is questionable. On one hand, it does not look like he got Green directly with his elbow but more like his arm. However, he still did get Green in the head, which the NHL clearly is trying to cut down on. Those who are claiming that Stepan needs to be aware of Green experiencing concussion like symptoms in the past are being downright silly. For starters, if Green is at all in a position where he is prone to re-injuring himself then it’s on the Capitals to keep him out of the lineup until he is completely healthy; it’s not the burden of the Rangers to go out of their way to make sure he isn’t hurt. Also, hockey is a fast-paced game, Derek Stepan, in that position, needed to find a way to knock Mike Green off the puck. It’s not as if John Tortorella sits in the locker room pre-game and gives a speech on each injury to the opposing team. At the time the hit happened, Derek Stepan is thinking, “I need to get the puck.” Not, “I need to get the puck, but wait. Mike Green is coming off a head injury. Should I hold up or no?” Should it have been a penalty? Probably. Then again, that play doesn’t happen if the original hit from behind, that happened seconds earlier, was called. Should the NHL give Stepan a warning or even a fine? Perhaps. Hell, if Colin Campbell feels the need to give him a one game suspension I’ll disagree but accept it. Let’s not take this for anything more than it is, though. Stepan admitted post game that he might have hit Green high but that “it’s not like [he] was trying to make a dirty hit.”
As seems to always be the case this season, the Rangers simply can’t win a game without some sort of negative side effect. Ruslan Fedotenko, in his first game back from injury, appeared to re-injure his shoulder. No news on the seriousness of it yet. I only mentioned a handful of players but almost every single player on the team tonight contributed in some way. Steve Eminger came up big with his second goal of the season. Ryan Callahan was the third star of the game. This was a team effort, from the top to the bottom of the lineup. The Rangers next game is at home on Sunday against Tampa Bay, who is second in the East. The Rangers played a perfect game tonight. Getting Gaborik and/or Staal back is possible, and would be nice, but shouldn’t be counted on either. This team can beat anybody when they play like they did tonight.
Topics: Alexander Ovechkin, Brian Boyle, Capitals, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Erik Christensen, Henrik Lundqvist, Injuries, Mike Green, New York Rangers, Rangers, Ruslan Fedotenko, Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh, Steve Eminger, Washington Capitals