1) Hypothetical question? If you had your choice of beating Edmonton and losing in Pittsburgh or losing to Edmonton and winning in Pittsburgh, wouldn’t you have preferred this? Really too bad they tossed away that game vs. the Oilers, could/should have been six in a row going into the Olympic break.
2) Even if this one carries the stinky asterisk of a shootout. Hey, the Rangers blew three one-goal leads to the best team in the East, but also never trailed in a rink in which the best team in the East was 23-4. And honestly, the Rangers were the better team 5 on 5 all night, and even more honestly, just as good on the power play. But they took some dumb, dumb penalties (two by Rick Nash). I know that’s not ground-breaking analysis, because it was pretty obvious to all. I think.
3) It’s always funny to hear both sides of the story. Thursday, the Oilers were thrilled with the way they played and the Rangers were angry, annoyed and disappointed with themselves. Friday the Rangers were doing emotional cartwheels and the Penguins were crying that the Rangers wanted it more than they did.
5) So imagine how good they might be if their first or second lines ever started outplaying their third line. Because that third line has been their best and most consistent line, and that line’s right winger Mats Zuccarello has been their best and most consistent forward all season. And now Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot, two career enigmas, seem to have figured it out. Pouliot was the Rangers best player Thursday, IMO, and again Friday. Brassard and Zuccarello were close behind.
6) Brassard started the first goal with a big hit, started the second goal with a faceoff win.
7) So I’ve taken to calling those three the “first line.” Especially with the way the top two lines have played. Nash took the two undisciplined penalties, allowed a Sidney Crosby breakaway that Henrik Lundqvist stopped, and was on the PK for some reason on one of the Pittsburgh PPGs. He’s a nightmare in his own end lately. When he first arrived I was actually very surprised about how dependable his game was in all three zones. It is not that anymore.
8) Nash’s center, Derek Stepan, disappeared this week after a strong stretch of games. His other winger, Chris Kreider, has been a force, but also two nights in a row couldn’t get off the ice on a change and was stuck out with Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards for a big late-third period goal. This one was hardly Kreider’s fault. It was more on Callahan—who drifted toward the puck even though there were four Rangers along the wall, and left James Neal wide open jumping off the bench and charging down the left wing to tie the game. Callahan and Richards’ winger, Carl Hagelin, was pretty good, but was also in the box for a Penguins power-play goal, though I questioned that call.
9) But it’s tough to break up your lines when things are going generally very well overall, especially since Nash and Stepan did have that terrific stretch through the Stadium Series, and especially since to break up one line you have to break up at least two, and it seems crazy to break up Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello now. Though I guess the previous coach wouldn’t have hesitated after, oh, one bad shift.
10) Speaking of Callahan, of course you know by now that the NHL Olympic roster freeze began at 3 p.m., so he will be a Ranger when he returns from Sochi. The freeze ends at midnight Feb. 23. The trade deadline is March 5.
11) Dan Girardi, the other top-level free agent, played a great, great game in Pittsburgh. I think he’s closer to a more reasonable contract than is Callahan, and that he will be re-signed without much incident. Besides, it will cost a lot more to replace Girardi with another shutdown first-pair defenseman, especially a right-handed one, that it will cost to just re-sign Girardi.
12) Pouliot’s opening goal at 1:04 was a dogged poke-fest at a puck that Marc-Andre Fleury thought he had pinned against the post. The overhead replay sure looked as if he didn’t have it pinned, and that the call was a good one. Two nights in a row a quick-whistle call was correct, and both benefited the Rangers.
13) Still can’t believe that Richards gets so many 4-on-4 OT shifts and Kreider gets none.
14) Oh, about the goalie. Henrik Lundqvist stopped Crosby twice as The Kid tried the same shot on the breakaway and the shootout. Lundqvist: 5-0, 1.77, .940 in his last five. Now two wins short of 300, and three away from Mike Richter’s franchise record.
15) Whoever put together that Malkinstein monster sure sewed on a sweet pair of hands.
16) Some scary story about Kris Letang, wasn’t it?
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Benoit Pouliot.
2. Derick Brassard.
3. Dan Girardi.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Benoit Pouliot.
2. Mats Zuccarello.
3. Dan Girardi.
Photos by Getty Images.