1) I didn’t see an eight-game winning streak coming. I really didn’t. Actually I’ve never seen one, not as a reporter, with the Rangers, since their last came 40 years ago, in 1974-75, right around this same point in the season (their last streak longer than eight was 10 in January-February 1973, which tied the team record set in the grand Cup year of 1940). But they’ve done a lot of good things against a lot of bad teams (and a couple of good ones). They’ve defended, they’ve gotten big goals, they’ve gotten great goaltending, their special teams, overall, have been way above average.
2) And they’ve bought in. That was evident when Henrik Lundqvist let it slip that he and a few teammates actually skated on their own Friday, during the NHL holiday shutdown, just to stay sharp for last night’s game. That tells me something about this team and its commitment.
3) Derek Stepan. How good has he been? Alain Vigneault said it took him two or three weeks after the broken leg to get all the way back. I actually thought it took him just a few games. But whatever it is, that’s 22 points in 21 games, and the hat trick involved some bounces — as Stepan readily admitted. I asked him about the enormous short-handed goal, when he had to race to catch up with the puck, then left himself with barely enough time to tuck that back-hander through Cory Schneider’s pads. “I didn’t want to push it (ahead) as far as I did,” Stepan smiled. “Luckily there was enough snow on the ice to slow it down.”
4) “That’s a big play,” Lundqvist said. “The end of the period … That’s just a big play by Step. Special teams won us the game. … It made the difference.” Um, the goalie kinda made a difference, too. That’s seven in a row for Lundqvist, who played his 600th game, and who has a 1.54 GAA, a .940 save percentage and a shutout over his win streak, tied for the longest of his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Lundqvist is one of only four goaltenders in NHL history to record at least 325 wins through his first 600 career NHL games (Jacques Plante – 332; Martin Brodeur – 330; Chris Osgood – 325).
5) I thought, as with many games in this streak, that a lot of guys played really well. Especially, IMO, Mats Zuccarello. He made some plays along the wall, and in the defensive zone, that won’t even be mentioned in most game stories and wrap-ups today. Man, was he good. I thought Chris Kreider had a decent game, and he made a big play to use his speed to negate an icing and help pin the Devils late in the game with a one-goal lead.
6) Surprised that Stepan’s PPG, off his mid-section, wasn’t credited to Martin St. Louis until today (sarcasm).
7) Daily Nash-O-Meter. For the 33rd game in a row, I got nada bad to say about this guy. Thought it was funny, AV cracking on Zuccarello for being offside — if he was — on what would have been Nash’s ENG, which would have prevented Stepan’s hat trick. But Nash-Derick Brassard-Zuccarello was about as dynamic as an offensive line can be without a point.
8) I thought Dan Boyle got off to an awful start, then got better. Had the PP assist, second in two games. Hey, he’s not going to be Dan Girardi defensively. But if he fixes the power play, and makes the good outlets, you live with what he doesn’t do. Maybe Kevin Klein slides up to second pair in some games, depending on the opponent.
9) Decisions, decisions. I don’t get the Lee Stempniak-in, J.T. Miller-out, either. I don’t. But I also don’t think it’s the slam dunk wrong decision that a lot of people do.I mean, AV has 486 more wins than I do, and he is on this eight-game winning streak, and they did win the game with Stempniak, Tanner Glass and John Moore in the game. So … Anyway, you make the decisions and win, they’re the right decisions. Right? Also, I’m thinking that if AV feels so strongly about Stempniak and Glass that he scratches a player who has done so many good things in his last 10 games, that probably means that Anthony Duclair is headed back to juniors after the WJC ends Jan. 5. That’s just a guess based on all of the above.
10) But it makes me laugh a little bit that Miller’s impressive moments have completely erased his bad ones in so many minds — his too-many-men penalty on the power play the other night, for example. I get that his leash is a lot shorter, and if he made the weak backcheck that Glass made on the Devils goal, and on the pinch by John Moore, who was another decision, in for Matt Hunwick, Miller would have been pined for the rest of the night. Double standard? Maybe. That all said, I thought Stempniak — other than his semi-lazy penalty — played a very strong game.
11) Anyway, AV is not the first coach in the world to prefer experienced veterans who are (theoretically at least) responsible away from the puck to rookies who are not. Rookies who are not, they better fill the net. Miller’s done that a bit lately. And Glass, BTW, the bad backcheck notwithstanding, was a physical force and drew the penalty to Jordin Tootoo, on which Stepan scored the game-winning goal. So …
12) Not sure Moore’s pinch was a bad one. AV wants his D-men up ice and aggressive. I am not ready to blame him for that play.
14) This Devils plan of having three head coaches, the three wise men? What could go wrong? It has failure written all over it, especially when the two supposed head coaches have their boss right up their backs. And nobody is designated to make the final decision on things such as lineups, or whether to take a timeout. I mean, what if Scott Stevens wants a timeout and Adam Oates doesn’t? Ultimately, it’s the Devils lack of talent, speed and depth that is going to finish them off, not the three-headed coach. But this, to me, is simply ridiculous. Asinine, really.
15) No Gomez played his 1,000th game. At one point Gomez was flying up the right wall and totally bailed on what would have been a hit by Ryan McDonagh. Let’s see, hmmm. For some reason, typing those two names in the same sentence reminds me of something.
16) Great to see John Amirante back on the ice for the anthem.
17) I think I have the Festivus book contest results figured out. Just want to go over it one more time. Will post the winners shortly. Also, apologies for the blog tech problems last night. This transformation is taking more time than we thought it would, obviously. I’ve had to kill a few live chats thinking it was getting done. Fingers crossed that we’ll have our new look up and running prior to the Dallas game Monday.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Derek Stepan.
2. Henrik Lundqvist.
3. Mats Zuccarello.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. tie, Henrik Lundqvist and Derek Stepan.
2. tie, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello.
Photos by Getty Images.