Tonight was a night that could have been brutal for the Rangers. The Pittsburgh Penguins, 1 point below the Rangers with a game in hand, were facing the struggling Ottawa Senators. But the Senators did us a favor and put up eight goals on the Penguins. Meanwhile, the Rangers resorted to the shootout to take care of their own business. A pretty sloppy game from the Rangers, to be honest, but there really is not much to take from “good” performances that end in losses this late into the season. And thus, the Rangers have surpassed the 100 point mark and are now tied with the St. Louis Blues for most points in the NHL with 101. Let’s look at some post-game notes.
Marian Gaborik- There was a time last season where people began to put Marian Gaborik in the same sentence as Chris Drury and Scott Gomez and pondered what kind of package Glen Sather could get for him. 75 games into this season, I think we can safely forget those sentiments. Gaborik did get a bit of luck on his first shot which deflected off Dion Phaneuf but his second one was a perfect display of his acceleration and soft hands. With two goals tonight and Kessel’s zero, Gaborik now holds sole possession of third place for goals scored in the NHL this season.
Brad Richards- The assist of the season by Brad Richards on Marian Gaborik’s goal. He made something out of nothing by spinning at the blue line so as to keep himself onside while receiving the puck. And then he made an absolutely perfect saucer pass onto the stick of Marian Gaborik. He also ended up with an assist on Gaborik’s first goal for winning the faceoff. And the shootout goal was helpful as well.
Richards has gotten a lot of flack for his performance this season but since the All-Star Game he’s had 26 points in 28 games. It’s scary to think that Richards can produce even better than that, but for now a point-per-game will do.
Tim Erixon- He bit a bit too hard on Joey Crabb’s move on Tim Conolly’s goal and he made a pass to Brandon Prust that left Prust in a vulnerable position. But I think Erixon had a relatively quiet but solid game tonight. He looks much more confident in the offensive zone and in his transition passes. He almost squeeked one by Gustavsson with a good shot from the point and got the assist on Gaborik’s first goal. He still looks a little deliberate with his play but for right now he’s an upgrade over Eminger, Stralman, and Woywitka and I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s going to be a quality NHL defenseman.
Brandon Dubinsky- You kill me, Brandon. You show a lack of attentiveness on Toronto’s first goal by pressuring when you needed to drop back and cover for Stu Bickel. And after Tortorella drops you to the fourth line you do the dirty work and score an important goal. There’s no doubt that Dubinsky has the talent to be an important part of this team and earn 15-20 minutes every night but he’s his own worst enemy.
Ruslan Fedotenko- I hope the time off did Fedotenko some good physically, because at least tonight he looked a lot quicker on his feet. He had five hits (granted, everyone’s hit totals were inflated tonight) and he blocked three shots. A good presence on the forecheck. I hope that this wasn’t merely a result of adrenaline due to it being his first game back and that he can play like this consistently. It would be a big help in the playoffs.
Ryan McDonagh- There has been and will continue to be a lot of debate over who of Staal, Girardi, and McDonagh is the best defenseman on the roster. In the past couple of games it’s been Ryan McDonagh. All things considered, he (and Girardi) did a good job of shutting down Phil Kessel. He played almost four minutes on a penalty kill that let in no goals on three Toronto powerplays, and specifically pinned the puck to the boards for a good 20 seconds or so in Toronto’s own end while two Maple Leafs helplessly tried to pry it away. Offensively he got involved in the play for the second night in a row. There’s not much separation between McDonagh, Staal, and Girardi in terms of what they bring overall so Tortorella is going to let their play on a given night dictate their minutes. Tonight McDonagh led the team in minutes with 28:29 and earned every second of it.
So here is where the Rangers stand with seven games remaining: they currently are tied with the St. Louis Blues in points for first in the NHL. Since the Rangers have two more wins than the Blues, the Rangers currently own the first tie-breaker for the Presidents’ trophy. The Rangers once again control their own destiny in terms of winning the Atlantic Division and earning the first seed in the conference. Any combination of Flyers’ points not earned in losses and Rangers points earned that meets or exceeds 10 will earn the Rangers home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. But all John Tortorella will be worrying about is what the Rangers could have done better tonight and what they will need to in Minnesota on Tuesday.