Someone asked Henrik Lundqvist last night if he knew the Jets hadn’t won the second part of a back-to-back all season. He laughed and said he didn’t, then insisted it didn’t matter. Some team will always be the first, he said.
Despite sitting atop the Eastern Conference at the break, Lundqvist and the Rangers refuse to leave a stone unturned. The idea of Winnipeg, amidst a slump, on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back screamed “trap game” to them. They refused to let that thought become a reality, and beat the Jets 3-0.
Here’s a quick review as the Blueshirts head into the break…
1) Lundqvist said the Rangers wanted to the Jets to realize quickly they meant business. The Jets were a defeated team that was more than 2,000 miles from home and limped into the Garden losing 8 of 11. That means the game plan was simple: Register an early goal and let Winnipeg know that thought hovering in the back of their minds at the opening face-off was a reality.
Indeed, the Jets were in for a rough night. The Rangers did exactly what they wanted, scoring 4:05 in when Ryan Callahan punched in the rebound of Anton Stralman’s shot. Quickly, it was 1-0 Rangers.
2) I know from back in the days when I covered the team semi-regularly that a big complain among fans was the team’s reluctance to shoot. Much has changed since the likes of Jagr, Roszival and Nylander left town, but not enough for John Tortorella’s liking. No, Torts didn’t reference the old Czech core, nor, I’d assume, did they ever entered his mind. However, he did praise Stralman for being ready to shoot when Winnipeg’s clearing try moved toward him. It allowed the defenseman to generate a chance when it seemed like one didn’t exist.
“A big part of what I think we have to get better at are rebound goals. And before you get rebound goals, you have to shoot the puck on the net,” Tortorella said. “We tend to look for the next play where probably the best play is being ready to shoot before it comes to you and to shoot it instead of trying to pass it.”
3) Anytime you have a shutout, the defense usually has something to do with it. Even with Hank in net. But the Ranger D played an especially strong game. Their names were sprinkled throughout the post-game notes. In reality, Stralman and Michael Del Zotto were largely responsible for the first two goals.
Del Zotto’s play seemed especially noteworthy. He skated from the red line in front of the Ranger bench, crossed the blue line, swooped toward the right circle and back toward the center before finding John Mitchell open on the left circle. It was poor defense by Winnipeg for sure, but a creative play by Del Zotto, who earned my third-star vote for the night. He logged 26:16 of ice time and finished a plus-2. Stralman, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were all over 20 minutes as well.
4) With those four playing major minutes, Marc Staal played a season-low 12:06 in this, his 11th game. Staal had no shots, blocked no shots and recorded just one hit. As you may have read, the Daily News reported that the club said Staal had no issues. That seems reasonable. Perhaps it’s just time for a break. The All-Star Game may come at a good time and allow him to re-boot for the second half.
5) When the Rangers struck for that second goal, they did so shortly after Winnipeg killed off a power play for the second time that period. The Rangers went on to finish 0 for 4 with a man-advantage and are now mired in an unsightly 3-for-41 stretch. If there’s a fear in the second half, is that it?
6) It certainly isn’t Lundqvist. The King recorded his fifth shutout of the season last night and 40th of his career, moving him into a tie for second in franchise history. Lundqvist said the achievement was significant to him because he understands the great men that have stood in the Garden goal before him. (I had a quote from him on this but can’t decipher it on my recorder because he speaks so softly.)
Of more importance for the stretch run, Lundqvist said, although he can still improve going forward, he feels strong because of the extra rest this season.
7) Lundqvist was asked if he tried to avoid the puck with his right foot on the second-period re-direct by Blake Wheeler that hit the right post and shot parallel to the goal line. As you know, it narrowly avoided Lundqvist’s skate. He appeared to raise it just in time to avoid kicking it into the goal, but that was pure fancy.
“No,” he said. “I feel like I was a little lucky today.”
8) The Rangers played out the remainder of the second period well, but they were fortunate Winnipeg failed to strike early in the third. Tortorella and some of the players said that was the only stretch where they let up, but Lundqvist saved the day, particularly with a spectacular left-pad stop on Tanner Glass.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of it. Other than the first few minutes there to start the third period, I thought we did a good job,” Tortorella said. “We defended well. In the first part of the third, Hank made some big saves when we didn’t. So I was pretty happy with how we played.”
9) In the waning minutes, when it became clear only a miracle or two could even send the game to OT, Brad Richards found an answer to his drought, scoring for the first time in eight games. He gave the Rangers a 3-0 and probably will go home this week feeling better for it.
10) I stopped by Brian Boyle’s locker quickly after the game to check on his foot. I would describe him as annoyed that the injury simply won’t seem to go away. Boyle seems to feel unsteady on it. It’s clear that an athlete has had his confidence rattled when he uses the word “scared” like Boyle did last night.
11) This morning’s final thought comes from your captain, whose cautious, we’ve-done-nothing-yet message reads like it was taken right off his coach’s tongue:
“We’ve had a good first half now. It’s good going into the break knowing you’re sitting in first place. But at the same time, the hockey only gets harder from here,” Ryan Callahan said. “Everybody picks it up a notch. We have to continue to do the same to have more success.”
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist
2. John Mitchell
3. Michael Del Zotto
AP photos, above (and below).