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Derek Stepan Leads the Way as the New York Rangers Take Down Ottawa 4-1

January 18th, 2014 at 6:38 PM
By Ricky Cibrano

'Blues vs. Rangers-8790.jpg' photo (c) 2011, Sarah Connors - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/It's been a long time since Derek Stepan had a game like this.

Stepan had a goal and two assists–snapping a 13 game goalless drought–as the New York Rangers rolled over the Ottawa Senators 4-1. Cam Talbot, who made 29 saves in his first start in two weeks, surrendered a goal early but then saw his team rattle off four unanswered in front of a quiet Saturday afternoon crowd in Ottawa.

Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Brad Richards also scored, but Stepan was the story, playing an important role in each of the Rangers first three goals. With the Blueshirts trailing 1-0, Stepan came out of the penalty box to give his team a 5-on-3 advantage. The Olympian set up at the bottom of the left circle and fired a pass through the crease to Richards, who took his time going top shelf on Craig Anderson, when the latter was slow getting across.

The goal was Richards' 13th, momentarily giving him the team lead, until Zuccarello's goal in the 3rd.

Midway through the second, Stepan was at it again, this time hearing Nash call for the puck in the neutral zone, and flipping an alley-oop pass over the D to The Big Smooth, who went in alone and riffled a shot over Anderson's shoulder for his 12th. For his finale, Stepan capitalized on an egregious defensive zone turnover by Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson, firing the puck passed a stunned Anderson, and giving the Rangers a 3-1 lead with 11.5 seconds to go in the 2nd.

"It's a big relief" Stepan said of his goal drought. "It's something that, for whatever reason, throughout a year, you go into these little dips and gullies and you have to find a way to just get through it."

The Blueshirts' dominated the first two periods, holding a 25-14 edge in shots, and limiting a talented Ottawa team to almost nothing offensively. The Rangers simply wouldn't let the Sens have the puck–frustrating Ottawa and forcing the likes of Karlsson and Jason Spezza to spend much of the first half of the game in their own zone.

Ottawa's Chris Neil did what Chris Neil does when things go bad for his team–stirring things up by taking a run at Dominic Moore and goading Ryan Callahan into a shoving match–but the Blueshirts didn't let the abrasive ones' antics bother them and change the momentum of the game.

The Sens did come out with some fight–during play, not just after it–in the 3rd, but Talbot was solid, making 16 saves in the final frame, including a big one early on a wide open Marc Methot in front of the net. Karlsson, who seemed desperate to atone for his earlier blunder, often appeared to be in three places at once in the 3rd, but was foiled by a strong defensive play by Carl Hagelin on a backdoor attempt, and missed the net on a one-timer shortly thereafter.

Zuccarello sealed it right after that, stealing the puck when Ottawa got a little too cute at their own blue line, and faking an overmatched Anderson into submission.

With the win, the Rangers improve to a season-best 5 games over .500 (26-21-3), and have won 5 of 6–surrendering two goals or less  in each of those contests. Don't look now, but pending the outcome of tonights Flyers-Islanders tilt, the Blueshirts are suddenly in second place in the Metropolitan division.

For them to stay there, they'll need more outings from Derek Stepan like todays. Stepan, the teams de facto 1st line center, has been MIA for much of the season. Before this afternoons game, the Wisconsin product had just two points in the new year, and was on pace for under 50 points.

After appearing to break out with 44 points in 48 games in last years half a season, to say he's been disappointing thus far is an understatement. But for a Rangers' team that will certainly be in the hunt for some offense in the second half, the prospect of finding some of it in-house in the from of a resurgent Stepan is a welcome proposition.

Tags: Brad Richards, Cam Talbot, Carl Hagelin, Chris Neil, Derek Stepan, Erik Karlsson, Hockey, Jason Spezza, Marc Methot, Mats Zuccarello, New York, New York Rangers, NHL, Ottawa Senators, Rick Nash

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