There’s something about first periods with the Rangers. The Rangers always look a half-step behind and unthreatening early on in games. And it’s not because of lack of effort.
But there’s also something about the other 40 minutes for this team. Henrik Lundqvist did what he had to do in the first 18 minutes of the game to keep the Rangers in it. Brad Richards scores a late 1st period goal and from there it’s the Blueshirts with the better play for majority of the game. Granted, the Penguins outshot the Rangers 38-21, but that hardly tells the full story. The Rangers capitalized on their chances when they got them, and Henrik Lundqvist looked calm on virtually every shot to preserve the lead. This is the kind of game where John Tortorella will tell reporters that there are things the team needs to work on but that they did what they needed to do and got the two points.
The Rangers have not lost a divisional game since the third game of the season against the Islanders. Let that sink in for a few minutes. Thought about it long enough yet? No? How about now? Good, let’s look at game notes.
Henrik Lundqvist- 37 saves on 38 shots. The only reason the game wasn’t a blow-out in the first 15 minutes. What more is there to say about this guy? It didn’t matter what the Penguins attempted. It didn’t matter how many man advantages they had. Henrik Lundqvist was steady in the net and made every save look easy. That’s the beauty of Henrik Lundqvist. Yes, goalies like Tim Thomas and Marc-Andre Fleury will get on highlight reels for desperation saves, but Henrik Lundqvist has such incredibly positioning and the ability to recover. He doesn’t need to make flashy saves. James Neal, one of the league’s top goal scorers right now, and there are very few nights where he can be afforded 6 shots without scoring. Lundqvist made tonight one of those nights. The scouting report used to be to shoot glove side on Lundqvist, but he seems to have improved that tremendously this season. Tonight every shot glove side was caught.
Evgeni Malkin- No doubt Lundqvist needed to come up huge tonight and 38 shots doesn’t look great on paper. But that doesn’t do the defense full justice. One of the best ways to hold the Pittsburgh Penguins to one goal is to hold Evgeni Malkin to one shot in 23 minutes of icetime. This season the Rangers have done a fantastic job of shutting down the opposition’s top player. Malkin was left frustrated tonight.
Ryan McDonagh- Can Montreal fans watch Rangers games without the help anti-depressants? McDonagh had one of his best games of the season tonight. He set up Richards’ goal and was pinching at all of the right times and getting involved in the play offensively. Defensively, he was a big part of shutting down Evgeni Malkin and was flawless in the neutral zone. Defensively, he was blocking shots, playing the man well, and getting pucks out of the zone. An inconsequential delay of game penalty in garbage time was the only blemish on his night. I don’t know if he will remain on the top pairing once Marc Staal is back to 100%, but it’s nice to know that we have a 22 year old who has not completed a full NHL season capable of playing 25+ minutes per night.
Marc Staal- Speaking of Staal, tonight we started to see signs of life from the guy. Simply getting on the ice during actual games was no doubt an accomplishment for him, but during the Winter Classic as well as last night it really only got that far. Tonight he looked a lot more comfortable and less rusty. He was policing the front of the net and was throwing as well as taking hits without any consequences to his health. His skating was much improved and he was getting involved in the offense. Tortorella gave him minutes late in the third period, which implies that his conditioning is better, as does the 15 minutes he played tonight. He still isn’t at his best but it would be unfair to expect him to be. But I think after the All-Star break we’ll have Marc Staal back to normal. And as well as some players have filled in, we are definitely a better team with a healthy Marc Staal.
Brandon Dubinsky- A goal and an assist. Three shots. A blocked shot. Four hits. Seven points in his last eight games. Welcome back Brandon Dubinsky.
John Tortorella- The Rangers looked awful to start the game. The Penguins scored. John Tortorella calls a timeout, talks to the team, and everything changes from there. I don’t know if it was coincidence or if he truly affected the game, but with the tangible improvements this team has undergone with Tortorella coaching I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and credit him with turning the game around. There are very few nights where the Rangers are out-coached.
Faceoffs- The Rangers won 40 of 65 faceoffs tonight. Good to see that a weak part of their game was a strong-suit tonight. Brian Boyle was 11 for 17 and Brad Richards was a ridiculous 18 for 23.
Obligatory sentence referencing the fact that Marc Staal and Jordan Staal are brothers and played in the same game.
Rangers are still without a regulation loss in the second game of back-to-back’s this season. With the win the Rangers are now three points above the Bruins for first in the conference and NHL, though the Bruins do have two games in hand. After playing two games in two nights, the Rangers now have a long time until the next game, January 10th against the Coyotes.