John Tortorella called the past three games a “season within a season.” The Rangers had three games in the past four days, all against division rivals. A tough stretch for a team that was already banged up and missing players. But the Rangers made the best of it and came away with three wins to make it four in a row and surpass Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division. Tonight, the Rangers were playing their second game in two nights against a rested Flyers team and it sure showed in the first period. It took 15 minutes for the Blueshirts to simply record a shot on goal. But periods two and three were clearly in favor of the Rangers. An incredible Derek Stepan deflection gave the Rangers the first lead of the game, and from there the Flyers had no answers. This game is sure to be a big part of the next episode of 24/7, and it should be a fun one for Rangers fans to watch. Let’s review the game:
Claude Giroux- Arguably the hottest player in the NHL this season, and the Rangers have completely shut him down in both games against the Flyers this season. In 25 minutes tonight Giroux managed one shot on goal, which Lundqvist saved with relative ease. For the Rangers to be missing their shutdown defenseman in Marc Staal and still be able to render a player of Giroux’s caliber useless speaks measures about the character and ability of the team. The team as a whole did a good job to limit him.
Brandon Dubinsky- Tonight was a great example of why statistics can be misleading. He had a single secondary assist, but there’s not much doubt that Brandon Dubinsky had the best 60 minutes out of any forward on either team. Coming off a good game last night where he finally scored, Dubinsky played with confidence tonight that he’s been missing most of the season. His five shots were the most by any player, and he was unlucky not to score a goal. He was physical and a workhorse on the forecheck and he made multiple alert defensive plays. The Rangers have looked like a much better team these past two games and Brandon Dubinsky has played a huge role in that.
Stuuuuuu Bickel- Bickel is fighting Tim Erixon for 9th on the defenseman depth chart for this organization. He also has four points in three games. His first point of the night was largely due to an incredible deflection by Derek Stepan, but he put a perfect shot towards the net for Fedotenko to deflect on the second one. Defensively, he hasn’t been a liability, which is all that can be asked of him, and his physical edge is welcomed as well; especially against a team like the Flyers. John Tortorella had no idea who he was when he first arrived at training camp even though he was in the organization last season. And here he is making a difference in divisional games.
Ryan McDonagh- We already discussed Giroux being shut down tonight. Ryan McDonagh might be the number one reason for that. McDonagh made life incredibly difficult for Giroux and the rest of the Flyers for that matter. His neutral zone play was impeccable and the Flyers had difficulties entering the offensive zone because of it. Offensively, he was active on transitions and was pinching in at the right times. A post was the only thing standing in the way of him scoring as well. One only needs to look at tonight’s game, with McDonagh and Girardi finishing -1, to see how unconvincing of a stat +/- is. Just like last season, John Tortorella is forced to rely on Ryan McDonagh for so much more than is fair to him, and yet he’s met those unrealistic expectations.
Michael Del Zotto- Just under 26 minutes tonight. Two assists, three shots, three hits, a blocked shot, and no giveaways. James wrote an article today about Del Zotto’s improved play and the reluctancy of some people to admit he’s playing great hockey. I’m not sure what else he needs to do to appease his critics.
Marian Gaborik- Once again, not much to say tonight because it was simply business as usual for him. His acceleration was on display on his 21st goal of the season. Gaborik now leads the league in goals. We saw Jaromir Jagr return to Madison Square Garden tonight; Gaborik is perhaps a threat to surpass his team record of 54 goals.
After three games in four nights against division rivals the Rangers are surely tired both emotionally and physically. The team has some time to recover with our next game being Monday night against the Islanders. If Jeff Woywitka is healthy then John Tortorella is going to have a decision to make. For now, though, the Rangers are just happy to win their fourth in a row and hold first place in the division.