1) Henrik Lundqvist. I thought he had no chance on the first goal, none on the third. I thought the second was stoppable, that it was a big rebound (it was) and that he went down early and got beat high glove. But I watched it a few times. It really was a pretty unstoppable shot up under the bar. Whatever, you probably don’t even question it if Lundqvist hadn’t been so mediocre for so long, and if you weren’t wondering how fragile he is. This performance, overall, has to be a great boost for him. On the other hand, if he played the exact same game and lost 3-2 instead of won 4-3, that would have been bad. So, as he said post-game, the win is what he will take from this. He needed it more than his team did. I’m guessing Sweden is watching too.
2) Speaking of which, the Rangers best players were better in this game than they were in D.C. Derek Stepan, on his first shift, made a great defensive play in the slot, on his second or third shift he set up Rick Nash with a terrific pass for 1-0 goal. Team USA incentive? The U.S. really wanted this kid on the team and he might have played his way off it. The roster will be announced New Year’s Day after the Winter Classic. One thing I never understand with Stepan is why he so rarely shoots on the odd-man rush; he’s a great passer, but he’s got a really good shot.
3) Nash scored his first in eight, on a goal-scorer’s shot. He was a little more involved in this game than he has been in a while, and miles better than he was in D.C.
4) Conor Allen. The kid was just fine in his first NHL game. His partner, John Moore, left him crazy alone against three Lightnings by chasing the puck all the way to the blue line on the 4-3 goal — why, why, why with a two-goal lead? — and Carl Hagelin did a bad job of covering for Moore there and got himself benched. Allen got schooled by Martin St. Louis in the third, too, but what NHL defenseman hasn’t been beaten by him? For a first time out, the kid was good. Wonder if he gets another look if Anton Stralman or Marc Staal comes back Tuesday, because it looked as if some of the others might not.
6) Moore had a tough night on a few plays, and Michael Del Zotto was nightmarish. Maybe Del Zotto hears all the Ottawa rumors and doesn’t want to go play for President Teddy Roosevelt? This was a big step backward for him, and for any chances the Rangers have to trade him. He didn’t play the final five minutes (Justin Falk didn’t play the last 14 minutes). After the Nash goal, he and Moore were out on a PK because, well, the Rangers only have one dependable pair. Del Zotto chased the puck to the corner, and Moore did the dreaded snow angel, failed to block the pass, making it too easy for St. Louis to set up the PPG for 1-1. At least this time the penalty (by J.T. Miller) was in the defensive zone.
7) Seriously, the PP with Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot is better than the one with Nash, Stepan and whomever. Brad Richards was on the point for all three PPGs, by the way. Again. Give him credit where due. On the last two PPGs, Alain Vigneault started Brassard, Zuccarello and Pouliot.
8) Zuccarello, as I have been hollering for a while, is very simply their best forward and by far their most skilled power-play player. And he was, again, pretty darn good at even strength, too. Involved, competing. Using his speed.
9) Oh, and Richards gets, from me, a gigantic demerit for taking that crazy, risky gamble shot at the empty net for an icing late in the game. Nobody on the roster should know better than he does, and he didn’t.
10) It’s barely worth mentioning over and over and over. But Ryan McDonagh was just outstanding. And his sometimes partner, Dan Girardi, has been finding his game lately. Another good one for him.
11) Chris Kreider. That was another goal-scorer’s goal, wasn’t it? And he is the team’s leading goal scorer (with 10), despite being Hartforded by another coach. This, I thought, was his best game in a while, and I thought he was pretty good in D.C. after being tentative late on the homestand.
12) J.T. Miller is getting more comfortable every night, it seems, too. Kid’s gonna be a player, IMO.
13) Wonder if the Rangers could have signed Valtteri Filppula ($5M cap hit, 14 goals) if they had bought out Richards last summer instead of this coming summer?
14) If I was the king of hockey, I’d put benches on opposite sides so there’d never be the long change 2nd period. Put the penalty boxes on opposite sides, too. Avoid a lot of the scrums between benches. How dumb is it for both teams to have that long-change disadvantage in the second period?
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. Derick Brassard.
3. Chris Kreider.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. Henrik Lundqvist.
3. Chris Kreider.
Photos by Getty Images.