The Rangers have now beaten the Philadelphia Flyers six times in a row, though only four of those came this season. And last year is last year and this year is this year. Four wins in four matchups against the Flyers this season, and if you look at the standings right now that is and might ultimately be what keeps the Rangers on top of the division. Yes, it is only February, but we’re no longer in the early stages of the season. Two big points for the Rangers today but let’s also give notice to the fact that we prevented the Flyers from getting two points themselves. For whatever reason the past few weeks have not felt as successful as earlier in the season but the Rangers have somewhat quietly gotten 9 points out of a possible 10 in the last five games. Let’s look at some game notes:
Henrik Lundqvist- Henrik is everything that Ilya Bryzgalov is not. He LIVES for pressure situations. Unlike Bryzgalov, he makes the saves he should be making and then throws in a couple of ridiculous ones just for good measure. Philadelphia has the 4th best PP in the NHL, and while we need to give credit to our PK units, the Flyers do not go only 1 for 6 today if Henrik Lundqvist isn’t playing like a potential Vezina winner. Lundqvist has only allowed six goals in his four games against the Flyers this season. It’s not as if the Flyers were not doing some things well or getting chances. As such, if I’m Peter Laviolette I’m feeling completely helpless in finding a way to penetrate Henrik.
Penalty Kill- No, they could not have done it without Henrik, but let’s also appreciate how our penalty kill units go above and beyond in helping him out. To put it into perspective how they literally put their health in risk, only three Flyers today had more than 1 blocked shot and none of them had more than two. Meanwhile, four different Rangers blocked at least four shots. Henrik Lundqvist is as likely to stop a puck as anyone in the NHL but our guys have no problem putting any part of their body in front of a puck to make sure it doesn’t even get to him. And meanwhile, the Flyers get outshot, have a goaltender with leaks all over the place, and don’t put in even half the effort to step in front of a shot. It’s the little things that will be the difference between winning the division and finishing with a 4th or 5th seed. Right now the Rangers are showing a willingness to do what it takes.
Marian Gaborik- He got hit with a bit of a midseason slump but he’s definitely put that in the past. He was the best forward on either side of the ice all game long. Maybe the shot itself should have bee stopped by Bryzgalov, but the effort he put in to score was incredible. He drove hard to the net with the puck but then got clobbered behind the net and was slow to get up. But he got up just in time for the puck to arrive in his general area and he gave everything left in the tank to get to the front and get a shot off as the clock was winding down. It may not show in the same way it does for a Ryan Callahan or Brandon Prust, but Marian Gaborik has a lot of heart. On top of that, he set up Del Zotto’s goal seconds after the Flyers tied it up.
I also want to give him credit for his defensive efforts as well. What Marian Gaborik does that some similar players refuse to do is backcheck. He puts in the effort to do so and I think his time with Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota is a prime cause for that. There was specifically one effort by him to breakup what would have been a point blank shooting opportunity for Jagr in the slot. We talk a lot about getting offensive contributions from everyone in the lineup but I think it’s just as important to get defensive contributions from everyone just the same.
Ryan Callahan- Despite Callahan’s four shots, our captain was pretty irrelevant offensively, but that’s not at all his fault. Callahan had to be called on so many times while shorthanded that Tortorella had to limit his even strength time. And Callahan embraced that role like nobody else – and I truly mean nobody – in the NHL can. Five blocked shots, three hits, and two takeaways. He was our best forward on the penalty kill. Ryan Callahan is not even close to the best player in the NHL but he is without a doubt THE player everyone should aspire to be like.
Brandon Prust- I think Brandon Prust does get the credit he deserves in general but I do think his game-by-game contributions can be overlooked. Today was one of Prust’s best games of the season. Against a team that was obviously going to play physically he stepped up and matched them. He threw his gloves off when he needed to. He was the one who caused a turnover at the blue line and then helped set up Dubinsky’s goal which more or less put the game away. We talked about the little things that separate the Rangers and Flyers, and the fact that Peter Laviolette is forced to play worthless scrubs like Zac Rinaldo and Tom Sestito while John Tortorella has the ability to put out a guy like Brandon Prust, who can match their physicality but contribute in other areas of the game, is another one of those little things that makes the difference.
The Rangers are finding their groove again, and thats going to be crucial for this final stretch of the regular season. We’ve got some tough games coming up so momentum is going to be important going forward. The Rangers play Monday at Madison Square Garden against the Devils, where they hopefully will make up for the injustice that was our last game against them.