1) A former Vancouver and Rangers coach, Roger Neilson, always said, it’s not who you play as much as when you play them. It was a gift getting a team returning from a seven-game trip. That said, full marks to the Rangers — who’ve been off since October — for putting the foot on the pedal early, playing super fast and yet structured, and forcing the Canucks to crumble. The start was absurdly good. Would have been a shame to play poor defense and let Vancouver stick around. They also didn’t let their own rust get into the equation. Their defensive play allowed their speed to control the game.
2) And the good thing for a team, about a game like this, other than the two points to kick off a road trip and s stretch of winnable games, is that it allows some players to get some confidence. Guys like Mats Zuccarello, who played a complete game and found the net twice — a guy from whom the Rangers need much more than they’ve gotten. He’s played pretty well recently, but needs to produce more.
3) That goes for the defensemen, too. The five in uniform last night, other than Kevin Klein, had a total of three goals this season, two by Dan Boyle. So they get one from the captain, Ryan McDonagh, whose game is coming around, and one from Marc Staal, who played a second strong game in a row and scored on his first shot on goal this season. I kid, I kid. Relax.
4) Henrik Lundqvist. Made an enormous save on Vrbata just before Zuccarello’s first goal. He gave up three Monday, but I thought he was very solid vs. Penguins. So since the stinker vs. Tampa, and Cam Talbot getting the nod in Detroit, I think Lundqvist has made progress. And, you know, he’s only the most important guy on the roster.
5) Jesper Fast does nothing (sarcasm). Except for some defensive plays, some nice passes — including the beauty to McDonagh for 1-0. That’s the kind of chipping in the Rangers need from their fourth line, especially since it started with a D-zone play by Dominic Moore.
6) Daily Nash-O-Meter. Didn’t score a goal. Was the best player on the ice. Dominant. Upended Ryan Miller early, then Miller allowed three on four shots. Made the 3-on-1 pass to Zuccarello for the third goal. Great back-hand pass to Brassard for Zuccarello’s second. Nine-game point streak (longest since I took over the blog temporarily).
7) Miller hasn’t looked like a top NHL goalie to me for several seasons now. He didn’t have a prayer in this game, but once upon a time, he’d have kept that game close more often than not.
8) How about the J.T. Miller-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis? Blew that early 3-on-1 with one too many passes (by MSL for Stepan). But came right back. Stepan to Miller, great move. Kid’s on a roll. Maybe this time he makes his stay permanent? Or at least long term?
9) And let’s not sell Derick Brassard short. The fact that he’s meshed so well with Nash is partly responsible for Nash’s great getaway here, and he’s always had good chemistry with Zuccarello. Brassard’s been mostly terrific lately. He doesn’t usually play a perfect game, but he’s certainly produced enough to let that slide.
10) Another big night for the quickly-developing rookie Kevin Hayes. He’s gotta find a way to get better at draws. Other parts of his game have been so good. Even if he could be mediocre on faceoffs … The Rangers’ coaches need to make that a priority for this kid. Get him some tutoring now, and then let him work on it more in the off-season. But the rest of his game, wow.
11) MSL is 0-7 in his career on penalty shots. How could that possibly be?
12) The Rangers won 47 percent of their faceoffs. Sometimes mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder. Or something. And they didn’t have a power play, which had to be to their benefit.
13) I was one who felt Columbus was for real … and was surprised when the Jackets dropped off. Now they’re back. Gonna be a couple of pretty good teams outside the Eastern playoffs this season. Book it.
14) The Brooklyn Tire Fires. I heap a lot of mockery on them and their bandwagon for the premature Cup celebration and all, but damn, that win last night was impressive … even though the penalty that started their comeback, against Versteeg, was a completely accidental shin-high stick that rode up John Tavares’ stick and hit him in the face. Still, they got it done. And Patrick Kane did a Chris Kreider in the D-zone.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Rick Nash.
2. Mats Zuccarello.
3. Derick Brassard.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Ryan McDonagh.
2. Mats Zuccarello.
3. tie, Marc Staal.
3. tie, Rick Nash.
Photos by Getty Images.