That was my favorite comment on the previous thread, from the notoriously funny Kaspar.
He’s right. There’s still some stuff to complain about—especially you Zherdev fans—but last night (and today, Kaspar) is as good as it’s been for the Rangers since, what, the playoff victory over the Devils last year?
Why? Because a road win in Nashville is as good as a road win in Detroit at this point. A win anywhere, at this point. Because seventh place is a lot better than ninth.
Because this game was stamped by John Tortorella, who certified that the “new coach” honeymoon period is over and that this is how it must be and will be from now on. Because Henrik Lundqvist, as crucial a piece of the puzzle as anybody, had a solid game even if he still isn’t having solid food. Because three of the Rangers goal scorers last night were named Avery, Staal and Sjostrom and on a team that really doesn’t have a true sniper, that’s what it will take.
And for so many other reasons, as well.
Tortorella must have peeled the paint off the walls between the first and second periods, must have promised the Rangers that they would either skate hard the last 40 minutes or skate much, much harder today in practice. Whatever, he got their attention and got results. (A while back, I said he’s not exactly like Keenan—and after the game, when he wouldn’t talk about why Nik Zherdev was benched, he proved it; Keenan would have gone off about how he let his teammates down and embarrassed his family).
Now come the Flyers for a home-and-home matinee starting in Philly tomorrow afternoon. The Rangers did the smart thing, too, in staying in Music City overnight. They will practice there this morning and then fly to Philadelphia.
1) Nik Zherdev’s benching wasn’t likely only due to the sloppy back pass in the offensive zone, which led to the rush the other way and the second Nashville goal. Clearly the kid has talent and a pair of hands comparable to few in the league (and fewer on the Rangers). But also, clearly, there is more that he doesn’t do that ticks off coaches. The giveaway was probably just the last straw. Now it’s up to Tortorella to get him back in there and to turn his benching for the last two periods into a positive.
2) Markus Naslund. His minutes diminished, too, especially after he was responsible for a too-many-men penalty. See, the players are responsible for that penalty, but it is up to the coach to prevent it from happening again. All I can say is about Naslund and Zherdev sitting is, with more and more minutes, Ryan Callahan and Sean Avery played better and better. About how many Rangers could you say that this year?
3) Avery. Avery. And more Avery. Forgive me, because I didn’t feel bringing him into this situation was ideal, and I still think it could blow up over the next three seasons. But he has been even better than the biggest Avery fan could have hoped. Better than he was in those two playoff series where he and Lundqvist were the difference. Love him or hate him, he’s a factor … and he’s a pretty good player. Kind of makes me wonder why more players don’t play like that. Not only is he extraordinarily physical, but he’s a great skater and he knows what to do with the puck when he gets it. Why wouldn’t more “role” players go as hard as he does?
4) Ryan Callahan. Maybe he will be the next Avery, even if he’s not as agitating. I thought, even through the darkest weeks before the coaching change, that he was playing terrific. Now he’s off the charts. Maybe Avery can rub off on him. Maybe the additional ice will result in some production to go along with all the other things he does so well. I thought the Gomez goal should have been Callahan’s, but I think if Gomez didn’t tip it ever so slightly he wouldn’t have taken credit for it.
5) Derek Morris has been pretty darn good so far. Nik Antropov a little less so.
6) The goal by Marc Staal—who had another solid game—reminded me of the year they were disallowing all those goals because of the silly, stupid in-the-crease video replays. That goal never would have counted. That year should be erased from memory, especially since Brett Hull scored the Cup winner in the crease. It was like the year baseball umpires were told to call all those balks. Please.
7) Hank’s NHL record. I know it has to be considered that he had more opportunities to win games because of the skills competitions at the end of tied games, but 30 wins in each of his first four seasons is pretty darn good. More important, he’s won four in a row, and he is your beacon of hope for more “bright, glorious, beautiful Ranger mornings.”