Tonight and Tuesday’s game against the Canucks were two great examples of Rangers hockey. That’s not to say that the Blueshirts were perfect in either, but that they stuck to what they do best and willed their way to a victory. In the first three games of the season the Rangers looked flat. It’s not just about losing, but how you are losing, and although the Rangers weren’t getting blown out in any game, something was off. The team was flat. Tonight’s victory was a big win. It gives us a winning streak and a bit of momentum. It gives the team confidence in itself; that they can put the puck in the net. And it was a typical emotional win by the team with some late drama. Let’s look at some of the aspects of the game.
Henrik Lundqvist- He’s arguably the most consistent goaltender in the NHL, but there are certain stretches of time where he reaches a whole different level of incredible. We’re currently watching one of those stretches. Lundqvist has been pretty much unbeatable and kept the Rangers in every single game. There’s simple no good way to get the puck past him right now. Any rebounds he gives up are far away from dangerous areas and his glove hand, usually a weakness, is just as good as the rest of his game. The only time he’s had any trouble this year is when a defenseman has screened him. He’s made no less than 27 saves in every game so far this season and has had at least 30 in the last three. Tonight he was remarkable late in the third period when the Rangers needed him most.
Ryan McDonagh- I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a Montreal fan and watch Ryan McDonagh play. Montreal’s defense is an absolute mess right now and they could use him badly, and Gomez is doing absolutely nothing to make up for it. After a slow start to the season, McDonagh has started to look much more comfortable the past few games. His offense specifically has reached a level we did not see at all last season. The overtime winner tonight gives him his 3rd career goal and second in as many games. Goals aside, though, his offensive game has significantly improved. He is much more confident skating with the puck in the offensive zone and is looking to make plays, whereas last year it seemed more like he was trying simply to not turn the puck over. What Paul Martin was for the Devils is what we’re seeing Ryan McDonagh slowly become for the Rangers.
Marian Gaborik- There are two reasons Marian Gaborik is starting off this season much better than he faired all of last season. The first reason is that his supporting cast is a clear upgrade. Brad Richards is the best center the Rangers have had since probably Messier and Stepan is a good 3rd player for that line. The second reason, and perhaps more important one, however, is that he’s letting his supporting cast help him. Gaborik is not a player like Alexander Ovechkin or Ilya Kovalchuk who can create offensive chances by himself. Last season he tried to be that kind of player. This year he’s trusting his linemates and dishing the puck to them with confidence that they’ll make the right play. And a lot of the time that “right play” is passing the puck to an open Gaborik, whose shot is lethal.
Tim Erixon- How many rookies face the kind of pressure Tim Erixon did tonight? I can’t really think of the last one to be a target of opposing fans like Erixon was tonight. He responded, though. I thought he had the best game of the season so far. He seemed more confident with the puck and stepped up at the blue line to cut off a few Calgary attempts of entering the zone. Like with McDonagh and Staal in their first handful of games, Erixon needs to be most concerned about limiting mistakes. The big plays will come with time. Michael Del Zotto has been very good next to him, which has helped Erixon tremendously. Nice to see considering only a year ago Del Zotto was the one who needed a defensive partner to babysit for him.
Brandon Dubinsky- Welcome to the 2011-2012 season. Glad you finally decided to show up for it. Dubinsky had a tremendous second half of the game and really deserved a lot better fate than the 0 points he owned at the end of regulation. Dubinsky had 4 shots, but more noticeable was his rushes with the puck, which looked much like those he made during the first half of last season. One of those rushes finally resulted in a goal, as he was the one who laid the puck off to Girardi, whose shot bounced to McDonagh for the game winner.
Erik Christensen- Speaking of arriving for the 2011-2012 season, here’s one guy who is predictably MIA. With all due respect to Kris Newbury, if you’re less noticeable than he is then something is terribly wrong. Christensen is the only forward currently in the lineup without a point this season aside from Newbury, and that’s the main part of Christensen’s game. Literally the only nice thing there is to say about his season so far is that he’s won most of his faceoffs, including two tonight on the only two chances he got. I can’t imagine he’ll be able to keep a spot on the roster for much longer if he keeps this up.
The Rangers are now 2-1-2 on the year and will travel to Edmonton to face Tom Renney’s Oilers. The Rangers have won two tough games on this western road trip and have a chance to really start a nice streak against two weaker teams in Edmonton and Winnipeg.