After a tough schedule last week the Rangers had the whole weekend to celebrate the holidays and cool off. Tonight, they looked refreshed. The Islanders had a number of chances late in the second period, but some timely shot blocks and mainly Henrik Lundqvist were there to fend it off. Aside from that, they could get absolutely nothing going. The Rangers were tough on the forecheck and did not let many Islanders get by them in the neutral zone without getting rid of the puck first. In the offensive zone, the Rangers played quality defense. Though the Rangers had trouble getting the puck in the net in the first period, it seemed inevitable that the Rangers would eventually put a few in and win the game. In short, the Rangers showed why they are first in the division and the Islanders showed why they are last. Let’s review the game.
Henrik Lundqvist- It’s refreshing to see the Rangers finally win games consistently without Henrik having to do it by himself. Of course, he was nothing short of fantastic tonight, anyway. He faced 28 shots and saved them all, including a brilliant sequence in the second period on the penalty kill. If the Islanders score there then it’s a 1-1, and thus completely different, game. Lundqvist now has three shutouts this season and four in his career against the Islanders.
Carl Hagelin- The Swedish Chef (yes, that is now his nickname) put in two goals tonight, and if John Tortorella had any thoughts of maybe sending him back to Connecticut those are likely extinguished. Hagelin now has six goals and nine points in 16 career NHL games. His defensive play is impeccable and his speed is such an asset on both the forecheck and backcheck. Hagelin is never going to be an all-star but he brings so many different things to the table. You need players like Carl Hagelin to win a Stanley Cup.
Michael Del Zotto- Good job by Hagelin to put the puck in the net, but he never gets those chances if Michael Del Zotto doesn’t make two fantastic plays to set them up. He set up Hagelin’s first goal by doing his best Brian Leetch impression and deking around an Islander before getting the puck towards the net. On the second one, Del Zotto pinched at exactly the right time, got the puck behind the goal line, and fed Hagelin a perfect pass in the slot. Two assists, a +3 rating, three shots, a blocked shot, a takeaway, and no giveaways. Michael Del Zotto is playing great in both ends of the rink, but even if you want harp on individual instances where he doesn’t make the right play; I will gladly accept the occasional blown play by Del Zotto every handful of games if it means this kind of effort from him. Nobody is mistaking him for a defensive wizard. The important thing is that Del Zotto’s positive contributions far, far outweigh any of the mistakes his detractors want to shove down our throats.
Brian Boyle- Brian Boyle is a good litmus test for who does and does not understand what hockey is all about. The casual, ignorant hockey fan will look at how his production is way down from last year and declare him unimportant. The smart hockey fan will see that he’s playing a different role this season. His defensive play is much improved. He is a monster on the penalty kill. He’s a force on the forecheck. He gives everything he has every single shift. Brian Boyle may never again hit the 20 goal mark, but right now that Rangers need him to be a consistent presence away from the puck in a bottom-six role and he is doing exactly that. Tonight he won 4/7 faceoffs, helped hold the Islanders’ powerplay scoreless, and was, along with Dubinsky and Mitchell, relentless on the forecheck and while cycling the puck in the offensive zone. The most noticeable shift by him was at the end of the second period, where he put his body in danger and blocked multiple point blank shots, allowing nothing to reach Lundqvist. I think Boyle could give us more offensively, but I also can not complain at all about what he is contributing.
John Tavares- He is not on the level of a Sidney Crosby or Steven Stamkos and Islanders fans were delusional to ever think he would be. That being said, I do feel a bit bad for the guy. He’s pretty much left by himself. Matt Moulson is a solid goal scorer but outside of that he contributes nothing. PA Parenteau has no business being on the 1st line of an NHL team. Mark Streit is no longer threatening offensively. The guy just does not have much to work with. He is a quality player stuck with a bunch of aging veterans, journeymen plugs, and underachieving young players. He’s signed with this total disaster of an organization for the next six seasons and his talent will likely continue to be wasted.
Marian Gaborik added an empty netter (one that did require a great effort from him) and he now has 22 goals, putting him two ahead of second in the NHL. Gaborik has now scored 17 goals in 25 career games against the Islanders. The Rangers extend their win streak to five games and are now first in the Eastern Conference in points. The next game will be on Wednesday in Washington. Who would have thought before the season that at this point the Rangers would be the team on top of the Eastern Conference while the Capitals are struggling to even hold a playoff spot?