Well, it would be a lie to claim that it was the best, or best executed performance of the season for the Rangers. Sometimes you have to work with the hand you're dealt. The Rangers put in a performance tonight that the 2011-2012 team would have been proud of. The team put in a full 60 minute effort tonight, limiting mistakes and tempering frustration, which could have easily crept in. It seemed that the puck was in the Islanders' end most of the night. The Rangers finally made a possession count as the Islanders backed down and were playing not to lose. Not a pretty game. Not an offensive show by any measure. But a hard fought, complete game in which the Rangers earned their two points. Let's look at some post-game thoughts:
John Tortorella: Tonight we saw a spectactular contrast in coaching. John Tortorella put his experience and intuition to the test tonight and ultimately outcoached lame-duck Jack Capuano. After a frustrating 40 minutes, the Rangers stayed persistent and stuck with the gameplan, trusting that eventually a bounce would go their way. The Islanders, meanwhile, seemed content to play prevent defense and hope Nabokov could continue to stand on his head.
Specifically, though, was a big gamble that Torts made; which paid off big time. Sam and Joe alluded to this. After rolling all four lines most of the game, Tortorella decided to basically go with excusively the Miller and Stepan lines for the last 10 minutes of the game. Capuano, hell-bent on matching Hamonic and MacDonald with the Nash line, was forced to follow suit with his own players. In effect, Tortorella took a risk and trusted that his top two lines were conditioned well enough to take on the extra minutes. The Islanders were worn down by a clearly superior opposition, and Stepan, Hagelin, and Nash finally capitalized as an exhausted Islanders first line watched on. We can whine about how Tortorella responds to the media, or how he refuses to disclose injuries. We can whine about how stubborn he appears at times. Perhaps there is some merit to those complaints. That being said, John Tortorella is not part of the Public Relations department. His job isn't to make the media and fans enjoy his comments. He's being paid to execute in the locker room and behind the bench. Tonight, he put on a coaching clinic that Jack Capuano had no clue how to manage.
Henrik Lundqvist: The harsh reality is that if Henrik Lundqvist is not at his absolute best tonight the game could have been over well before Nash had an opportunity to tip one home. The Rangers struggled mightily on the transition and the Islanders were handed numerous breakaways and odd-man rushes. Lundqvist was on top of all of them. As a result, a one-goal gap was maintained, giving the Rangers a chance to come away with a result. He ended up with 27 saves on 28 shots, and was the most important player for the Rangers tonight. Though Nabokov put on a clinic of his own, a loss would have been undeserved for Lundqvist.
Rick Nash: Nash was not good in his the first 40 minutes. It appeared as if his brain and his body were on completely different frequencies. Pucks were sliding off his stick and he lacked that burst we are used to seeing from him. He found his game when the Rangers needed it most, though, and was the best forward on the ice in the third period. He had some great individual efforts, including one instance where he split three Islanders with only Nabokov preventing him from the highlight reel. Anyone who has played hockey likely knows that high shots are incredibly difficult to even make contact with, much less put on net. It takes some great hands to deflect the puck downwards like Nash managed. In overtime, he made a perfect feed to Del Zotto, who was tripped up by Michael Grabner, and he got an assist on the resulting powerplay. Unsurprisingly, there's a pretty consistent correlation between how well Nash plays and how likely the Rangers are to get a win. It's been four straight now since his return to the lineup.
Marian Gaborik: No two ways around it; Gaborik was awful tonight. With Richards out, the Rangers can not afford Gaborik struggling. Ultimately, though he faked confidence he clearly did not actually have, commanded the powerplay in overtime, and put the puck home for the win. And that's what he is paid to do. His first goal in eight games, hopefully this can give Gabby some life. He now has 18 goals in 20 games against the Islanders since signin with the Rangers.
Girardi and McDonagh: John Tortorella has given Marc Staal the assignment of shadowing the opposition's top player. With the eye injury, Girardi and McDonagh were given shared duties. I'd say they did a damn good job of limiting John Tavares tonight. He really did not have much room to work with, forcing the Islanders to look elsewhere for offense, which clearly did not happen.
Marc Staal: I gave my props to Girardi and McDonagh, but Staal was sorely missed tonight. A lot of questions were posed as to why the Rangers looked so bad on the transition and why the Islanders were afforded so many breakaways and odd-man rushes. The answer is, in part, that Marc Staal was not playing. He does not have the recovery speed that McDonagh has, but he doesn't need it. Staal is so sound positionally, is mobile enough on his skates, and has a long reach. That's a killer combination that doesn't allow for many transitions from the opposition while he is on the ice. The Rangers were caught flatfooted a lot and were beaten to many pucks by Islanders' forwards. Staal has an arsenal of mental and physical tools that limit those opportunities.
Roman Hamrlik: He didn't light the world on fire, but a moderately pleasing performance from a guy who is brand new to the team and has only played four games this entire season. He made simple but smart plays with the puck, didn't get outmuscled in the corners, and didn't make any mistakes. That's all you can ask for from a bottom-pairing guy. It's one game against a lesser opponent so we won't throw any parades yet, but he was an upgrade for the back end of the defense at least tonight.
Penalties: The Islanders are 27th in the NHL in 5 v 5 play. The Islanders have the 5th best powerplay in the NHL. The Rangers did not take a single penalty (aside from the Bickel coincidental). I don't know how much more I can say regarding the subject. The most likely way the Rangers were going to lose tonight was by gifting the Islanders powerplays. They took none and the Islanders clearly struggled to match the Ranger at even strength for a full 60 minutes.
As Forrest Gump once said, "that's all I got to say about that." Four straight wins for the Rangers and they'll have the opportunity to extend the streak tomorrow against the Senators.
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