1) Happy New Year! Whether 2013 was good, great, bad or horrible for you, here’s hoping that 2014 will be better. And the dawn of 2014 means one thing: Honeymooners Marathon!! It also means Winter Classic today at the Big House, and after the game, the naming of the U.S. Olympic team roster. Ryan McDonagh is a lock, Ryan Callahan a probable. Will Derek Stepan make it? Seriously, though, is it just me or does it seem like we were talking about the Millennium a few months ago?
2) For the Rangers, 2013 was, thanks to a silly skills competition, a game over actual .500. In 101 games in the calendar year, including playoffs, the Rangers were 51-44-6. They are a game over NHL .500 for the sixth time this season. They have not yet been two games over NHL .500, and they go to Pittsburgh next (Friday).
3) Henrik Lundqvist. Guess that little break, while Calm Talbot played three in a row, was good for Lundqvist’s head. That’s six straight periods and an overtime and a shootout of vintage Lundqvist. There’s no telling where the Rangers would be right now without what Talbot has given then. But it’s pretty obvious they aren’t going anywhere without Lundqvist being Lundqvist again. Not that we doubted he would be. And let’s face it, the Rangers, with their lack of firepower, are gonna have to win some 2-1 games. Just a fact of life. These were Lundqvist’s first back-to-back wins this season. Hard to believe.
4) Yeah, that’s a crappy team they beat in a comeback and a shootout. But guess what. The East is loaded with crappy teams like that, and that team recently won five in a row, then beat Montreal Sunday. Also hard to believe the Rangers have won 10 of their last 13 on the road, after starting the season 2-6 in the first eight games of that nine-game trip. Hard, also, to believe they’ve won four of five with all the trashing they’ve taken on these pages.
5) Dan Girardi giveth and taketh. I am not absolving Girardi of blame on the Florida goal, not whatsoever. … But … somebody’s got to tell him that he’s getting pressure on the blind side there—either John Moore or Lundqvist. Still it’s Girardi’s bad pass that results in the goal … But … Brad Richards and Mats Zuccarello completely, absolutely stopped skating coming back. They both did, with two defensemen behind the icing line. Thus it was an uncontested goal after the giveaway. Again, it’s all on Girardi, but it didn’t have to be a goal.
6) On the tying goal, what a horrific play by Tomas Kopecky, who lost his stick and decided to go to the bench with the puck deep in the Panthers end. Girardi scored uncontested from where Kopecky should have been, where he could have made it a more difficult play for Girardi, even if he had no stick.
7) The power play again was really strong, I thought, and Alain Vigneault has absolutely made Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot, Brad Richards and Ryan McDonagh his No. 1 unit, leaving the supposed first line on the bench. Even without scoring a goal, I thought that first unit was tremendous last night, and when the first line of Derek Stepan, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider came on, it was noticably poorer. Either something off the rush, or nothing. This isn’t popular here, but Richards has been superb on the power play.
8) That all said, I thought Kredier-Stepan-Nash were really strong 5-on-5. Kreider was beastly (his offensive zone penalty was aggressive, at least, not lazy), and in my opinion—and the daily Nash-o-meter—Nash was moving as well as he has in weeks. Let’s face it, Stepan and Nash MUST be better in the second half. Stepan, Nash and Kreider created the tying goal with the kind of O-zone shift they have rarely had in the first half.
9) Marc Staal and Anton Stralman return. To me, Staal looked really good, especially when you remember how, before the concussion and the 10-game absence, he was really bad. Shockingly so. And Stralman, for all the bashing he gets here sometimes, is just so much better than Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, and John Moore. He is.
10) Conor Allen. Memories of Ryan McDonagh’s arrival, and Michael Sauer’s, and John Moore’s, where a kid came up, made a first impression and stayed? It’s still very, very early, but Allen hasn’t looked out of place at all. But I also liked the way the kid answered questions with John Giannone between periods, and seemed to understand what was going on out there, and what needed to be better.
11) Del Zotto. I still think it’s crazy to just give him away without getting back a player who will make the Rangers a better team. I don’t know if that’s possible anymore, or how much longer the Rangers can wait. But his value’s not going up when he plays, and it’s not going up when he doesn’t.
12) No Kreider in the OT. As I speculated last time, AV said he has four set pairs he likes to use in sudden death. So some wingers get knocked out of the rotation. To me, a good coach should be able to figure out how to get that speed and shot into those 4-on-4 open-ice situations. So, to me, it kinda says maybe he doesn’t yet trust the kid in OT? Maybe? I will add this. John Tortorella always played it conservatively in OT, figuring with Lundqvist it was better to take your shot in the skills competition. He even said so, repeatedly. I don’t necessarily agree with it. Maybe AV feels the same way.
13) The fourth line—Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle—really has settled in and does a good job with its role now. It could and should, obviously, add a tad more offense. Or any. But, we’ve said so many times how soft this team is and how it’s not difficult to play against like it was in 2011-12. Well, that line lately has been difficult to play against, has gotten zone time and forced opponents to play deep in their own end, and hard shifts, too. You can’t discount the importance of a line that does that in these one-goal or tied games. Plus they all kill penalties, and that was some massive four-minute kill of the Richards penalty down 1-0 in the third.
14) Though not much happened in terms of shots and scoring chances, I really liked the pace of this game, especially early. The Panthers can move, and so can the Rangers. Neither team is terribly physical. But it was easy on the eyes, IMO.
15) Sure appeared to be a lot of chairs at the game.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Derek Stepan.
3. Dominic Moore.
Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Marc Staal.
3. Brad Richards.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Ryan McDonagh.
3. Dan Girardi.
Photos by Getty Images.