1) Kinda difficult to make heads or tails out of this game, what with Edmonton being such a Northern Tire Fire, with the Rangers getting some really fortunate bounces, and it really wasn’t a very physical game at all, etc. But the Rangers played well. They defended. They created a little bit, and used their speed at times on that great sheet of ice.
2) Mostly, they responded to a very sloppy loss in the other part of Alberta on Friday, and that’s what good teams do. That’s what the ‘11-12 team did. Have a stinker? Come right back with a solid win.
3) That said … at this stage of the season, any win over any opponent by any score is a good win. So the Rangers beat up a feeble opponent while Philly was stealing a point (with help from a late bogus hand-pass call) against the Beast of the East. So the net-net is that the Rangers gained two on Columbus, one on the Flyers and Capitals (who got yet another Bettman Losers’ Point and have 25 actual hockey wins in 75 games), and maintained their lead on Detroit. As we’ve said over and over, it’s crucial to get into that 2-3 first-round slot and avoid the wild card.
4) Cam Talbot. It sure worked out, the decision to give the backup a game here. Alain Vigneault doesn’t fly by the seat of his pants, so I believe he planned for a while to give Talbot this start—keeping it quiet, though, in case he changed his mind. Such a wonderful luxury to have a guy who can play here and there and be of little or no drop-off whatsoever. Three shutouts, 12-6. Can’t get much better than that. And I still believe that, often, when you go to the backup, the team subconsciously or consciously is challenged to play better defensively.
5) This team needs to defend to succeed. All of its successful streaks this season have come when they’ve defended well, especially around the net. And with its speed, this team often plays its best offensive games when it defends. Just the way it is. The Rangers won’t win when they defend as they did in Calgary.
6) AV also did some interesting line-juggling that worked beyond what could have been expected. Again, maybe that’s because it was Edmonton. But putting Daniel Carcillo on the first line—he’s not a first-liner by any stretch of anybody’s imagination, including his—didn’t hurt Derek Stepan or Rick Nash at all. And reuniting the line that has been the Rangers’ best all season—Benoit Pouliot rejoining Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, the latter two of whom were awful with J.T. Miller Friday—sure paid off.
7) Keeping the fourth line intact also worked well. Those three guys—Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore—have just been dominant on so many shifts in so many games for several months now. Moore, ICYMI, was named the PHWA-NY Chapter’s nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication. Nobody has persevered more than Moore, and his comeback from personal disaster, and his play after a naturally slow start, make him as good a story as there is in hockey. Good for him.
8) Which brings us to the other line, the one with Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis on it. Richards and Carl Hagelin have been pretty good lately. I didn’t think either was very special in this game. But St. Louis, while he tried hard and does some little things well, and while he sure had some chances, continues to be in a snake-bitten, confidence-lacking funk. Yeah, the team has done well without him scoring in 14 games (9-4-1). But he needs to do a lot more these last six games, and in whatever playoff games the Rangers get. Needs to be a bottom-liner like Rick Nash. While the young, not-vocal former captain thrives in Tampa.
9) The Daily Nash-O-Meter. Needle’s up because, as I said, he’s a bottom liner and he scored twice. One was a fluke. One was legit. He also had a great breakaway move on the power play robbed by Ben Scrivens. I thought he was more involved in both ends than he had been Friday, when his game dipped. Who knew he’d be better on the penalty kill than he is on the power play? And his center, Stepan (three assists), is really coming on at the right time. He still passes sometimes when he should shoot—he’s a great passer with a very good shot—but his game has come around. (though he was 2-11 on faceoffs and the team was 22-33).
10) The first power play, other than the Nash breakaway, stunk as it has since Yankee Stadium. The second was better, with Nash parked at the net and Stepan in the high slot. But it got better when the real No. 1 unit got out there, and Brassard banked in a PPG off an Oiler with Pouliot setting a screen. Pouliot made the play that put it in motion. Meanwhile, the PK continued to be stellar, with Nash and Zuccarello (who had his first two goals in 18 games) scoring short-handed against the snoozing Edmonton PP.
11) The officiating, again, very interesting. To put it kindly. There will be at least one disaster in the playoffs, and probably one involving video replay. I didn’t mind the no-goal call with Boyle and Moore and Dorsett crashing the net—but I do mind that it’s a call that goes either way on any given night, much like the kicked-in goal reviews and the quick-whistle/slow-whistle goals.
12) Speaking of Edmonton, did you happen to catch any of the Wayne Gretzky fantasy camp stuff on NHL Network. They had TGO mic’d. So he was talking on the bench about how, in the old days, refs would award the assists, often skating by the bench and asking who had the assists. Gretzky said guys would holler and try to take credit for assists on his goals, and added that he heard that Phil Esposito had 20 assists while sitting on the bench one year. Then one of TGO’s fantasy teammates had a penalty shot. Gretzky told him to shoot, not deke. The player deked and was stopped and when he came back to the bench, the incredulous Gretzky barked at him, smiling, “I’ve got 1,000 goals.” Hilarious.
13) But what’s happened to that franchise isn’t good at all. All those non-playoffs, all those lottery picks, all the skill collected, and still this. Poor Dallas Eakins, a Roger Neilson disciple who would be better suited to a veteran team with a focus on defensive play, has just the opposite, and so he was probably a poor fit as a rookie coach.
14) Did you happen to see the left-his-feet predatory high hit by Brooks Orpik that injured Jonathan Toews? And did you see the Pitt media leaping to Orpik’s defense? I’m guessing NHL Player Safety won’t do a thing about it.
15) NBC sells all the rough stuff, then misses it. In fact, in the only fight of a Boston-Philly game that was being sold as a blood war, NBC’s camera was elsewhere, missing the entire altercation. Then NBC immediately cut to commercial. It never ends.
16) Please, please, NHL board of governors, give us more of these meaningless, passionless non-conference games. Please.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Cam Talbot.
3. Rick Nash.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Mats Zuccarello.
2. Rick Nash.
3. Derek Stepan.
Photos by Getty Images.