If you want to understand exactly what Fenwick is and what this graph, courtesy of Extra Skater, displays, then this is a good place to start. But the basic gist is this. The Rangers absolutely dominated this game in pretty much every conceivable fashion. The 2-0 scoreline doesn't accurately portray exactly how much better the Rangers were tonight than their counterparts. After the miserable string of games previously endured the most we could have asked of the Rangers tonight was to make the game competitive. They didn't just do that. And they didn't just win. They completely manhandled the Capitals. Is this a sign of things to come or an inevitable victory indicative of nothing? We'll find out. At least we know this team has it within them to be a good hockey team. Let's look at some of the things that happened tonight which led to the result.
System & Style of Play: Tonight there were, and there always will be, some substantial differences in the way Tortorella and Vigneault set up tactically and approach the game. Nonetheless, somehow Mike Milbury got this right; the Rangers looked a lot like they did in previous years under John Tortorella. A much more aggressive forecheck and north-to-south approach. Getting bodies in the center of the defensive zone to limit the quality of shots. That's not to say that John Tortorella's sytem is necessarily better than Vigneault's. This is pure conjecture on my part, but I think that the coaching staff realized during the western road trip that they were asking for too radical of a shift in philosophy and tactics much too soon. Tonight it felt like they were easing the players into the transition and allowing them to stay somewhat within their comfort zone. The Rangers will eventually function exactly as Vigneault and the coaching staff sees fit, but the team also needs to pick up some points along the way. Some compromise seemed apparent tonight and helped earn this result.
Henrik Lundqvist: Thanks for joining us, Henrik. The season started a few weeks ago, but better late than never. Though he got no help in front of him, Lundqvist was giving up uncharactaristic goals and rebounds and overall just looked shaky in the first few games. Tonight he looked like vintage Henrik. He made twenty-two saves to get his first shutout of the season. He commanded his crease with authority. I can't remember a single opportunistic rebound he left the Capitals. A very much earned first star, and you have to wonder what is going on in the minds of Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals, who are still unable to penetrate Lundqvist.
Brad Richards: Especially with Rick Nash out, the Rangers need Richards to step up and be the player he was two years ago. He continued his hot streak tonight. He looked like the best Rangers forward, and the stats back that up. Two assists, which bring him to seven points through six games, Along with that, he attempted five shots, won 60% of his faceoffs, and delegated nicely on the powerplay. John Giannone has commented that he's never seen Richards in better physical shape, but I don't think there's much doubt that he's a lot more with it mentally as well. Whereas last year he was trying to force plays that weren't there and was indecisive with the puck on his stick, tonight – and so far this season – he looked much more poised and let the game develop in front of him before making a confident decision.
John & Dominic Moore: Both Moore's had their best games of this short season. John Moore cut down on the defensive gaffes and, in a 4v4 play where there really was not much developing, broke the scoreless tie with a wicked shot that rang off the post and in. In total, John had five shots in 15 minutes and was part of a powerplay that, despite not scoring, was making things happen. Dominic doesn't have as much to show in the way of the basic boxscore but was an important piece to tonight's victory. Dominic was a positive in the faceoff circle, made a handful of key plays in the defensive zone, and drew the Alexander Ovechkin penalty that led to John's 4v4 goal.
Brian Boyle: Continues to be underappreciated despite the important role he fills. Boyle led Rangers forwards in shorthanded minutes for a penalty kill that shut down the talented Capitals powerplay all four times. He had a neutral even strength Fenwick percentage – which basically means the Capitals and Rangers had about equal possession of the puck while he was on the ice – despite the fact that he was constantly going up against the Capitals' top line and started in the defensive zone over 60% of the time. If Boyle can be a key contributor on the penalty kill and do a competent job in the shutdown role at even strength then he absolutely has a spot on this team; an important one at that.
Ryan Callahan: The important goal – batted out of the air – to give the Rangers some breathing room. Six shots. Five hits. Two blocked shots. The prototypical Cally game.
Derek Dorsett: For managing to stay out of the penalty box. I also thought he did some good things on the forecheck. He and the rest of the fourth line had some good shifts where they kept the puck in the Capitals' end. Did I mention that he stayed out of the penalty box? With Asham in Hartford Dorsett becomes a very important player on the roster. They need him do the dirty work of fighting, throwing hits, getting banged up to make plays, etc. But most importantly, he needs to do that without any boneheaded penalties to show for it. Good step in that direction for him tonight.
The Rangers are off until Saturday, when they travel to Newark to take on the Devils.
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