The Rangers have played its worst hockey in a long, long time the past week, but tonight there was no question as to who was the better team on the ice. However, the score did not reflect this for much of the game. Not once did the Rangers lead the game until getting the win in overtime. Three times the Islanders deflated the crowd by taking a lead. But the Rangers got the job done. For the first game in a while the players who are supposed to be the best on the ice actually were the best on the ice.
And while individuals played better and the team tactically looked different, one general vibe, if you will, stuck out to me more than anything else. The theme of this year’s Rangers team has been perseverance through bad situations, whether that be their own piss-poor play, bad referee decisions, or tonight’s unlucky breaks. The Rangers have let bad happenings get in their way during their three game losing streak, but tonight they showed the motivation to give the proverbial middle finger to the flukey moments. Let’s get into the post-game observations.
Brad Richards- Yes, his point totals suck. No, statistically he hasn’t earned his salary. And yes, there have been games where he has been irrelevant. But I think what is slipping under the radar is the fact that the team’s offense is directly influenced by Richards’ play. Certain players can have good individual nights with it meaning little for the entire team. But when Brad Richards plays well the entire team plays well.
Two fantastic goals, draws the penalty in overtime and then set up Gaborik for the winner. This might have been Richards’ best game of the season and it was wonderful to witness.
Mats Zuccarello- I am not a firm believer in change just for the sake of change. That being said, I do think mixing things up once in a while when there’s a consistent problem – in this case, losing – is not the worst idea in the world. Thus, I applaud management’s decision to call up Zuccarello, who has been fantastic for the Connecticut Whale, and insert him in the lineup. He wasn’t a game changer but I do think Zuccarello played well tonight. Specifically on the powerplay it gave the team another option. Not to slight John Mitchell, but Zuccarello is the kind of player a team’s PK has to respect much more. He can make fantastic passes, has a good shot, and is sneaky in moving around. I was not upset when he was sent down in the beginning of the season because he simply didn’t deserve to be in the lineup but I was happy he got another opportunity, was happy with his play tonight, and I’d love for Tortorella to keep him here for at least the next couple of games and see what he can do.
Brian Boyle- I am a Brian Boyle apologist and have been much more content with his play than some other people. But there is no doubt that Boyle is sometimes his own worst enemy and doesn’t utilize his size and strength like he should. Tonight Boyle did that. With Callahan out of the lineup Boyle was designated as the man screening the goalie and hovering at the top of the crease on the powerplay. He gave Nabokov absolutely no chance of seeing Richards’ shot on the powerplay and he deflected McDonagh’s shot past Nabokov to tie the game at 3. On top of that, he did the usual Brian Boyle things; three hits, two blocked shots, and 12 for 19 on faceoffs.
Marian Gaborik- His third overtime goal of the season. Evgeni Nabokov had a very good game tonight and it was going to take a great shot to win it in overtime. Gaborik probably couldn’t have shot that one any better. With 33 goals now, Gaborik has a good chance of hitting 40. Gabby is now 5th in the NHL in scoring.
Losing streak over. The Islanders got two flukey bounces in their favor on the first two goals and were fortunate to have Andrew MacDonald come out of the penalty box at exactly the right time and go on a breakaway. Luckily, the Rangers had enough in the tank to make the score in their favor. The Rangers are now three wins away from clinching a playoff spot.