1) Derek Stepan. Breakout game? I don’t know. He had that hat trick Nov. 2 after going his first 12 without a goal, then scored four in his next 36 games, including none in the last 13. And while I certainly don’t judge him solely on goals, he needs to pop one a lot more frequently than he has. That said, he needs to have more than 20 assists through 49 games, too, playing on what has to be the No. 1 line. And that all said, I’d been saying that I think his game is coming around lately. He is still—normally—a very good defensive center, and he has to be increasingly good playing with Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, who aren’t particularly good in their own end.
2) When he does shoot it, you see why he should shoot it. The guy’s got a great shot. That’s the curse of a good passer, and it holds true for Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, too. They are such gifted passers that sometimes they don’t shoot when they should. And they all can shoot it. Maybe, if there is one thing to be learned from Brad Richards—another terrific passer throughout his career—it is that shooting the puck is never a bad play. Richards shoots it. And shoots it. And he gets goals, sometimes from bad angles or deflections … whereas a bad or forced pass often turns into something bad.
3) And one more thing about Stepan … that was a good defensive play on which he was assessed a penalty. As was the subsequent call against Ottawa that evened it up. Pansification. Remember when you had to occasionally fight through a check, and when defending was a skill? Ridiculous calls. Then, when Cory Conacher bowls over Cam Talbot behind the net, ref Tim Peel didn’t call it, and why? Guessing, but educated guessing: Because power plays were 4-1 in the Rangers favor and they led. Refs always do that garbage, trying to “manage” the power plays and the score. It’s embarrassing.
4) You had to love Talbot seeking out Conacher—he said post-game that they had some run-ins in the minors—and throwing a shoulder into the little smurf at the end of the period. That shouldn’t overshadow Talbot’s play. He was good early, as the Rangers played a dangerous game of trading chances with the Senators, then didn’t have to do much as the Rangers took over. But Calm was really, really sharp in the third when Ottawa started taking chances and were all over the Rangers. Another exceptional performance by the backup. And we sure had an interesting post-game discussion in the comments about whether you think about trading him, what he might bring in return, what with Henrik Lundqvist locked up for the next seven years. Talbot will be a UFA after next season. Doubt his body of work will bring back enough for it to be worthwhile before this deadline.
5) Daily Nash-O-Meter. That goal was exactly the game-breaking type of goal the Rangers don’t get very often, or often enough. Stepan banks a clearing pass off the glass, and Nash’s skill turns it into a goal. They have to work so, so, so hard for most of their goals. They have one guy who should be doing that more regularly, and it’s Nash, whose game recently is miles better than it had been. Nash had a big role in the Stepan goal, too, even though it was Norris Karlsson who coughed it up (shocker).
6) Yeah, let’s get Richards off the power play. We don’t hear that more than a few times a day. That was some 5-on-3 goal, and critical to the game. Say what you want about his 5-on-5 play, and I’ll agree with a lot of it, but he’s a main reason the PP is so good this year. And next year they will have to figure out how to replace him there. Richards hit two posts, too, one of them after Craig Anderson made a lucky save with the handle of his stick. Nash hit one too. Big guys stepping up.
7) When was the last opponent first-liner to score against Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi? None the last four games, at least. NYR_FAN noted it was Geoffrey Lupul’s goal in that 7-1 blowout in Toronto. That is some amazing stretch, And now McMonster and Block Ness get Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares back to back. Girardi, I think, is all the way back from his early-season woes. And I don’t want to beat it to death, but Marc Staal has gotten better seemingly every game since he came back from the concussion. Throughout this stretch of six games in which the Rangers have been really reinventing themselves, the one constant has been the way they defend. Top to bottom, start to finish.
8) Chris Neil ran over Dominic Moore, clean (for a change) and hard. With Daniel Carcillo on the ice and in the vicinity. Just proving once again that the presence of a tough guy—middleweight or heavyweight or whatever—will not change for a moment the way another tough guy plays. Nor will it stop a Conacher from bumping a goalie. That “enforcer” tag is prehistoric and extinct. You need guys who can play, like Neil. And, to be fair, like the way Carcillo has played so far (5-1 record, by the way).
9) Speaking of the Rangers’ fourth line, I thought they had a shift against Ottawa’s No. 1 line, spent entirely in the Senators’ end, that helped turn around the game as much as the power plays. Then they had another one to slow down the Senators as they charged late. Say what you want about Moore and Brian Boyle, and they’re this and they’re not that, or whatever. Those guys are pretty valuable when your team needs to settle down with a good puck-posession shift … and even more valuable when protecting a lead late in a game. Look at their third-period shifts in the last two games. If you can’t accept that, then please don’t read any more paragraphs with the names Boyle or Moore in them.
10) Going back for a moment to the Red Wings game Thursday, when Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot and Brassard combined for the only goal. I forgot to mention that it was Pouliot who set up Brassard for the OT winner in Detroit at the end of the nine-game trip, which began this beastly road run the Rangers are on. They are 13-4 on the road since starting 2-6 on that trip.
11) Another pretty nifty goal by Mats Zuccarello. On a day when Martin St. Louis scored four, this potential St. Louis Jr. continued to be the Rangers’ best forward.
12) So at the end of each period there was a bit of a fracas, one involving Nash, one involving Talbot. And MSG Network missed both of them live, stuck in a pre-determined unrelated closeup. Just like NBC. Pay attention, dammit!
13) FOMOH. How does access to games on a mobile device help you watch the game while you’re carrying furniture up and down stairs? Wouldn’t that ad make better sense if it was for a DVR?
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Calm Talbot.
3. Rick Nash.
Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Cam Talbot.
3. Marc Staal.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Cam Talbot.
3. Mats Zuccarello.
Photos by Getty Images.