(graph via Extra Skater)
The Rangers and Panthers came into this matchup trending in opposite directions. The Panthers had just fired its entire coaching staff as a result of the team's ongoing eight game losing streak. The Rangers, despite a slow start to the season, had won six of the last eight games. The game was perhaps a bit more difficult than the Rangers would have wanted. The Panthers led the game 30 minutes in and the second period ended tied at two. Nonetheless, the Rangers held on to win against a team that should be beat. As the Fenwick graph shows above, the Rangers pulled away from the Panthers in the third period, with the score reflecting it, and the Panthers were forced to play catchup the rest of the way. A third period Brian Campbell goal plus a late powerplay opportunity made it a bit uncomfortable, but the Rangers held on to win the team's third straight. Keep reading for some of my observations and analysis.
Henrik Lundqvist: Yes, he let in three goals for the first time in six games. He still had a very strong game. One goal came off a fluke bounce that neither he nor the Rangers really deserved to have go against them, and he didn't have much of a chance on the other two goals. The Panthers pushed in spurts and the Rangers struggled at times to find their footing. Lundqvist stood tall and came up with some big saves, ultimately making 24 on 27 shots. He did struggle with some rebounds tonight and I don't think he would proclaim it his best performance, but he was still very good, and "very good" was enough for tonight.
JT MIller: A guy who is fighting to avoid a demotion to Hartford, Miller was possibly Wally Pipp'd and given a lifeline thanks to Taylor Pyatt's concussion. Miller had one of his best games of the season all-around and was rewarded with his first goal since February 7th against the Islanders, when he scored his first two career goals. His Fenwick Percentage was a solid enough 53.3%. Bonus points for trolling Tim Thomas and goading him into a retalitory penalty.
Chris Kreider: Another strong game for Kreider minus one qualifier, which we'll get to. Kreider made a phenomenal play in the neutral zone to cause a turnover and send the Rangers on the transition. Soon after, he received the puck on the offensive zone and showed tremendous poise when he kicked the puck to his skate and, instead of taking what was a decent shot opportunity, finding J.T. Miller for the opening goal. Kreider showed the confidence and initiative that he has since being called up. He threw three hits and played a good game in all zones. The trust that Head Coach Alain Vigneault has of Kreider reflects in Kreider leading all Rangers forwards in even strength minutes, with 16:36 of playing time. Kreider has registered at least one point in five of the last seven games and has eight through 10 games.
Now, for the one qualifier of what was mostly a good showing. With the Rangers leading by a goal late in the third period, Kreider took exception to Scottie Upshall getting physical with Derek Stepan and crosschecked him as Upshall skated to the bench; the puck nowhere in sight but an official right in front of him. Nice of Kreider to recognize Upshall taking shots at a teammate and wanting to stick up for him, but there's a time and a place. The dying minutes of a one-goal game is not the time or place. Luckily, for him and the team, the Panthers failed to make something of it. To his credit, he showed instant remorse as he skated out of the penalty box at the end of the game and Vigneault said during the postgame press conference that Kreider immediately apologized. Chalk it up to a learning experience, and one that is much better learned in November than in an important game late in the season.
Ryan McDonagh & Girardi: A good game from the top pairing. McDonagh was the other part of the Miller goal. He proved that secondary assists can sometimes be important to a play, taking the lose puck that Kreider jarred loose and eventually feeding it to him in the offensive zone. Though the two assists might indicate otherwise, Kris Versteeg didn't have much going for him tonight. McDonagh & Girardi were matched up against him all night. Girardi in particular was good on the penalty kill and made a big block during the Panthers' last gasp.
Brad Richards: A goal and assist to improve his team-leading point total to 15. The goal came off a good feed from Carl Hagelin and Richards sniped it into the top right corner. The assist was a feed to Mats Zuccarello after he comitted the Panthers' skaters to his side. Zuccarello hammered in the five-on-three goal to give the Rangers the 4-2 lead.
It's not just the points that are impressive, but the fact the circumstances of them. In the second period he shanked on a shot with a wide open net in front of him and was visibly frustrated. The Brad Richards of last season would have thought about it for the rest of the game and sulked around the ice pitying himself. Instead, Richards gave the Rangers the lead early in the third and put in his positive contribution for the game, earning the first star. He also won eight of 11 faceoffs. Another good game from Richards, and with Nash out they need him to step up that much more.
Derek Dorsett: The game against the Blues, in which he took three separate penalties, was rock bottom for Dorsett and rightly drew the ire of many fans. He's put together some decent games since, though, with tonight his best. I've said in the past that Dorsett could play a similar role to the one Brandon Prust cultivated for himself, and tonight Dorsett put in that kind of performance. He banged in a goal that will get no points for artistry but plenty for effort and timeliness. He forced the puck to the front of the net and kept banging away until it finally beat Thomas and put the Rangers level with the Panthers in the second half of the second period. Lundqvist pointed out postgame that it was a big confidence boost for the Rangers. Aside from that, took three shots, blocked one, threw three hits, was credited with three takeaways, and drew a hooking penalty.
Brian Boyle: An assist on the Dorsett goal, and he was a 60% Fenwick at even strength despite 45.5% of his starts in the defensive zone and only 9.1% in the offensive zone. He was 7-for-11 in the faceoff dot. The underappreciated shutdown center had another solid game.
For all the histerics to start the season (and some of it deserved) the Rangers sit third in the Metropolitan (groan) Division. The Capitals, who are second, are one point ahead of the Rangers but have played one more game. The Penguins, who are first, are only four points ahead. The season is a marathon; not a sprint. Right now the Rangers are doing just fine in the marathon. They'll get a chance to keep the run going against the Devils on Tuesday.
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