For a 3-4-2 homestand, it sure could've been worse.
The New York Rangers turned in easily their best effort in the last of a record 9 in a row at the Garden, dispatching the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 in a shootout, and getting back to .500 in the processs. The win is the Blueshirts second in as many nights, and allows them to get out of town on a high note, after a disastrous, and at times listless, 1-4-2 mark through the first 7 at the Garden.
The Rangers and Leafs made it through the first two frames scoreless, but only because of the heroics of Jonathan Bernier, who turned aside 22 shots in the 2nd. He could hold the fort for only so long however, as after continuing the pressure early in the third, JT Miller finally broke through for the Blueshirts at 7:04 of the final frame. Miller jumped off the bench as the Rangers began to change while cycling in the offensive zone, snuck into the slot undetected, and deposited his 2nd of the year off a beautiful feed from Chris Kreider.
Then things got interesting.
Cam Talbot was just minutes from his third shutout of the season, when the Leafs got an early Christmas present from the officials. Talbot stopped David Clarkson's wraparound attempt, and had the puck under his left pad–only the refs didn't seem to agree, allowing Nazem Kadri to whack at the puck several times until it finally dribbled over the line. The call went to video review in Toronto, but with no whistle ever sounding, not surprisingly, the goal stood, tying the game with 1:24 remaining in regulation.
After a back and forth overtime, the Rangers rendered the blown call moot in the skills competition, with Zuccarello and Stepan scoring for New York, and Talbot stopping–serendipitously enough–Nazem Kadri to seal it.
In the second game in as many nights, energy level is always a concern, but after early penalty trouble, the Rangers outworked and out-skated a pretty swift Toronto team all night. The effort was far and away the Blueshirts most impressive of the marathon homestand. The defensive breakdowns were kept to a minimum–especially after the first period–the forecheck was dogged, and the goaltending was solid. Just about the only thing the Rangers didn't do was finish, which will likely continue to be an issue until more pieces are added.
But, scoring woes aside, this game was the blueprint for how this group of Rangers has to play–fast and in your face. The Rangers posses neither the size nor the skill to bully or outscore teams at this juncture, which means they must utilize speed, hard work, and intelligence with the puck to be successful.
The question now becomes whether the last two games were an aberration, or if the Rangers really have turned a corner. Remember, they appeared to turn the proverbial corner in mid November when they first climbed over .500…only to come crashing back down to earth at the start of this homestand. Only the Rangers can, and at some point will, answer that question. The blueprint is there, it's now up to the Blueshirts to execute it.
-The team certainly appears to play tighter defensively in front of Talbot than Lundqvist.
-Rick Nash is fighting it right now. Make it no goals in 6 for the big man, and just 2 in his last 11 games played.
-The Zuccarello-Brassard-Richards line was the Rangers best unit all game long, generating 13 shots between the three of them.
-If he isn't already, Mats Zuccarello will shortly be the new fan favorite.
-The Rangers powerplay–while vastly improved–will never be elite until they find someone with a big shot from the point.
- For Floundering New York Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist Remains Key
- Don’t Blame Alain Vigneault for the New York Rangers’ Struggles
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