This was a game that was in the back of everyone’s mind for the last week. It’s pretty silly to call single games in November “must-win” games. Especially for a team that had won 9 of its last 11. But there was definitely the feeling that we needed to not only play well against, but beat the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Somehow, this would validate us as a team. I’m not so sure that a loss tonight would have meant much for us, but a win against the Penguins is very telling of the team John Tortorella and Glen Sather have assembled. Especially in the fashion we did tonight. It was not a perfect win by any stretch of the imagination; the Rangers did just enough to win the game. But just enough is well enough against a team many consider the favorites in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers were winning a lot of games, but were beating bad or mediocre teams. But those thoughts are now long gone with three straight wins against the Capitals, Flyers, and now Penguins. The statement has been made. We are no longer a team that will back into the playoffs. Lets look at some game notes:
Referees: A pretty bad job by the zebras in the first period, with a questionable call on Marian Gaborik and other clear Pittsburgh infractions missed. That being said, let’s give them credit for the job they did for the remainder of the game. They let both teams play and called the game pretty much perfectly the rest of the way.
Marian Gaborik: I’m running out of new things to write about Marian. Derek Stepan was pretty much a non-factor tonight but Gaborik showed he doesn’t need Derek to play at his best. He set up Callahan’s goal perfectly and put one in himself on a great individual effort. Aside from just the statsheet, though, Marian was all over the ice. He made life extremely difficult for the Pittsburgh defense and backcheckers and even made himself useful on the forecheck, getting to puts along the boards first and throwing his body. Last season is long in the past. Gaborik has earned every single penny of his contract.
Brad Richards: Speaking of people earning their contracts, I don’t think Richards will be discussed in the same sentence as Scott Gomez and Chris Drury for a while. A goal and two assists tonight. The powerplay sucked late in the game, but when it was succeeding early Brad Richards was the biggest factor. Richards has scored in three straight games and is on pace for a career high 35 goals. Will that pace keep up? Maybe not. But so far Richards has provided everything we were promised and more.
Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell: John Tortorella must be thrilled that he now has twelve forwards on the team that he can put on the ice and expect good things from. Hagelin and Mitchell is such a bizarre combination, but for whatever reason it is working. John Mitchell has always had offensive ability but has also always been extremely inconsistent. The difference between him and Christensen is that Mitchell is relevant when not scoring, as he is good on faceoffs and reliable defensively. But that’s not even a concern right now, as he has factored into the scoring three games in a row. Hagelin’s speed is something this team needed badly, but most important is that he has an NHL attitude and mindset. His setup of Mitchell’s goal tonight was the most underrated play of the game. If these two can keep it up John Tortorella is going to have a lot of thinking to do when Wolski and Rupp are ready to return. I don’t know how you can justify taking these two – or anyone for that matter- out of the lineup.
Faceoffs: Remember how bad the Rangers were on faceoffs last season? Drury’s return towards the end was welcomed just for that reason. Well look at tonight’s success rate:
Brian Boyle: 11 out of 15
Brandon Dubinsky: 11 out of 16
Brad Richards: 13 out of 16
Derek Stepan: 5 out of 8
This is not insignificant. Puck possession is important and in a league where teams are so close in ability every advantage matters.
The Rangers have now won 11 out their last 13. What really stands out to me is the makeup of this team. We’re so used to a couple of players holding us back and giving us reasons to bash them. Is there any unlikeable player on the team right now? Even Eminger and Woywitka, who have their awful moments, play hard every night and put their bodies on the line. A team like Washington has more talent than we do, but attitude matters just as much. And that’s why we’re winning and Washington isn’t. Give credit to John Tortorella for not only nurturing talent but also keeping the team focused and thinking how it needs to in order to win hockey games.
The Rangers now go on the road against to Southeast teams, the Hurricanes and Lightning. Two very winnable games but two teams that are dangerous for different reasons. All in all, it’s a good time to be a Rangers fan.
Topics: Brad Richards, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Faceoffs, John Mitchell, John Tortorella, Marian Gaborik, New York Rangers, Penguins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Rangers, Referees, Sidney Crosby