Happy Festivus! We will begin with the airing of grievances, followed by the feats of strength.
1) That was one of the Rangers’ best games of the season, and the second was one of the best periods of the season, and the third wasn’t too far behind. Why? Because guys battled. An example: On the 3-1 goal, Derick Brassard made a defensive play, fought through an uncalled hook and a slash to lug the puck out of the Rangers zone, Mats Zuccarello went to the dirty area in front, and the Rangers were rewarded with a goal. Another: Hagelin went to a dirty area in front for the second goal, even if it was off a deflected pass. The Rangers won puck battles, a lot of them, and the result was very noticable.
2) And whatever Alain Vigneault says about the scoring chances he counts, the Rangers defended better. Much better. There were three breakaways and a penalty shot vs. the Islanders. There was barely an odd-man break in this game. There were breakdowns all over the place vs. the Islanders, and maybe two or three in this game. I thought, especially, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were much, much better vs. the Wilds, noticably so against the Koivu-Parise line. I thought Michael Del Zotto had another reasonably solid game. Of course, the Rangers also had the puck a lot, and as when they had their previous little streak this season, they used their speed.
3) Calm Talbot. Hey, he gave up an early goal (not his fault) and for a young guy coming off a loss in his last start, then sitting for most of three weeks, back-stopping a fragile team that has trailed a whole bunch on this homestand, that was a critical juncture. Talbot was really, really good after the goal, and allowed the Rangers to get it together when another goal could have been “game over.” I think he starts tonight vs. Toronto. I think he should.
4) Still troubling was the play of the supposed top line. Rick Nash rang one off the post, and had a fluke assist on a fluke goal by Chris Kreider. Nash’s play is still troubling, both short-term and long-term. Kreider hasn’t been the same player for much of the homestand and had his minutes limited again.
5) And this was another rough start for Derek Stepan, who lost the draw cleanly on the 1-0 goal. Then he had a brain-freeze when he high sticked the puck to cause a whistle and bring the faceoff to the defensive zone on the PP. On another draw he thought he broke his stick, so he leaned on it to check, and then it snapped, when he probably could have played with it before snapping it. Once it snapped, he had no stick in the defensive zone. He lost 10 of 13 faceoffs in the game, many cleanly (Brad Richards won 11 of 17).
6) That first goal was a real clown show. First you had the icing, with Nash supposedly shaken up and coming off. So the Rangers caught a break in all the confusion that the players were allowed to get a breather. Then Kreider — on the ice with two centers — was to take the draw. Got tossed. Stepan went in and lost it cleanly, nobody went near Suter at the point, and John Moore did a lousy job checking Jason Pominville.
7) But you’ve got to like Moore going after that piece of carcillo Matt Cooke after the hit on Zuccarello behind the net. It was probably a clean hit, but you know Cooke saw him vulnerable and tried to deliver a dangerous blow. He’s such a piece of crap. Is it wrong to wish Shawn Thornton had done to Cooke what he did to Brooks Orpik? Anyway, Moore did the right thing, then Derek Dorsett paid him a few visits and racked him up a couple of times. That’s how you respond.
9) Give the power play credit on the 1-1 goal, because four of them — at least — made a good play. Richards did, Brassard did. McDonagh did. Benoit Pouliot did. Pouliot’s been better lately. Much better. Involved, contributing. You’d have to be a cockeyed optimist to believe it will last based on his history.
10) I’m going to remain, based on experience, noncommittal about the news regarding Marc Staal. I mean, great for him to be feeling better and skating again. And it’s wonderful news that this concussion isn’t the same or as bad as the last one. But it’s a concussion, and there’s no way of knowing the timetable on these things, nor how well or for how long a player can continue if/when he does return. To be clear, I hope nothing but the best for Staal. He’s a good guy, a beloved teammate, a leader and a crucial piece of his team. I just want to throw a warning of caution out there.
11) Whenever I see former future Ranger Zach Parise, I can’t help but wonder … of course. What if the Rangers had drafted him instead of Hugh Jessiman? Or what if they had decided to really make an effort to sign him as a free agent instead of going after Nash? I know, he wanted to go home, and he said that silly thing that he wouldn’t sign with the Rangers — which he kind of had to say — but if they had succeeded in getting him then, they might still have Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon (for what that’s worth) and the prospect they could have drafted in the first round last summer. And now, with Nash the way he is, they might instead have an albatross contract. I know, I know, it’s revisionist history. But that’s what I think.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. Derek Dorsett.
3. Derick Brassard.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. Carl Hagelin.
3. Cam Talbot.
Photos by Getty Images.