1) I want to start out by saying that this was my first live experience with one of these outdoor games. I didn’t think I was going to like it. I generally don’t care for the hype, and I absolutely don’t care for all the ancillary stuff with entertainment like the Jersey Boys and Southside Johnny (did the Rockettes really bail?). I also don’t like freezing. But I want to tell you that I thought this event was really something special. Really loud, great atmosphere, great conditions (other than the ice). Great job by the NHL.
2) One of the reasons I wasn’t a big fan is that, with all the parity in the league, especially in the mediocre Leastern Conference, these points are enormous. These points can decide playoff spots and jobs, and I didn’t think they should be up for grabs on a rink that would make the game difficult, in an environment that invited distraction. This game is certainly not the equal of a game in one of the teams’ buildings. Yet it would count the same. So, IMO, this is an enormous game to win, and a terrible game to lose. Check out my column from the game here.
3) Sitting so far from the actual rink, I wasn’t so sure if my feelings on that start were legit. So I did something I rarely do. I went home and watched the game again. And, it reinforced what I felt about the start. I thought the Rangers were physical and as mean as they can be, I thought their pace was really good, I thought they had a couple of colossal defensive breakdowns and one bad goal allowed by Henrik Lundqvist. Other than that, I thought they played really well.
4) For example, Dan Girardi did get caught flat-footed on the breakaway out of the box Patrik Elias, but if Lundqvist makes a routine save there, you don’t even remember it. Girardi was illegally picked by Travis Zajac on the second Elias goal, on which Lundqvist and Carl Hagelin got mesmerized by Jaromir Jagr. Well, Jagr’s never done that to anybody, right? And John Moore didn’t tie up his man on the third goal, plain and simple.
5) That said, I thought John Moore might have been the best player on either team in this game, and I think by far the best player in the second period in which the Rangers took complete control. His best skating game in a while. Maybe his best of the season.
6) And he wasn’t alone. I thought Derek Stepan was terrific start to finish. I thought that the third line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard (other than his really undisciplined penalty) and Benoit Pouliot was due to check back in after a couple of lukewarm games, and that they sure did, again, start to finish.
7) And get this, for a change: The Rangers’ fourth line not only outplayed the Devils’ fourth line, but was also responsible for the Rangers being in the game, responsible for their two goals in the first period. In this little revival by the Rangers the last few weeks, you can go to just about every win and pinpoint a few shifts by Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Daniel Carcillo (and before him Derek Dorsett) in which they either created momentum with lengthy offensive-zone cycles, or protected a lead, or lately, chipped in a goal or two.
8) Speed kills again. Boy, I don’t remember many Rangers teams who could punish opponents’ mistakes with counter-attacks like this one has often in the middle of this season.
9) Daily Nash-O-Meter: Nash was talking post-game about how difficult he found this game, with the ice and the depth perception, etc. I didn’t think he was great. But, yeah, he scored again. Eleven in 11 games. So, yeah, that’s what you want. I mentioned Stepan earlier. Chris Kreider also was a factor with both speed and strength again. Kid’s a monster.
10) I thought Henrik Lundqvist admitting that his preparation wasn’t great, that he was a little groggy after taking a nap during the sun-glare delay, was certainly unique. But I’ve always said this is a guy who gets it, and so he’s usually pretty interesting at assessing his game, good or bad. He said he thought me might be pulled, and knew it was now or never at 3-1. He talked about the team being challenged, and how it met that challenge. Good stuff. Go back and listen, or watch the video clip. I did want to ask him, “Henrik, how long did it take you to get your hair to look like that.”
11) I couldn’t help but think that somewhere Torts was wondering if NBC called for that penalty shot, like he did in the Winter Classic.
12) That first penalty called on Brian Boyle? Pansification. The subsequent call on Elias? Even-up call. NHL refereeing. Where two wrongs make a right.
13) You have to wonder if either coach could have pulled his goalie during play in those conditions. Gotta be really difficult after the backup’s been sitting in that arctic air. Peter DeBoer had to wait until the intermission to get Cory Scheider warmed up. I don’t know if, in an indoor game, he would have done it earlier. I don’t know if he considered it. By then it was too late. In fairness, two of those goals were off Devils, one hit a Devil and landed on Dominic Moore’s stick, and one went off Zuccarello’s skate.
14) And somehow, Toronto allowed Zuccarello’s goal to stand.
15) I thought the Anton Stralman-Marc Staal defense pair was spectacular. Solid and physical.
16) Let’s do this again Wednesday … only a lot colder.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. John Moore.
2. Mats Zuccarello.
3. Derek Stepan.
Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. Anton Stralman.
3. Dominic Moore.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. tie, Dominic Moore and Anton Stralman.
Photos by Getty Images.