There's a lot of talk about the Rangers getting that first winning streak together; about building some momentum. What if we're already at that point and just nobody has realized it, though? With the win tonight, the Rangers have quietly compiled 10 points out of a possible 14 in the last seven games. That's a pace that, were they to continue it, would put them among the top in the league. Of course, I'm not one to get excited over small sample sizes and John Tortorella will be the first to remind everyone that the Rangers haven't proven a single thing yet and need to stay consistent. But with all of the chaos and noise – the call-ups, injuries, trades, powerplay worries – the team's first real winning streak and positive momentum has gone somewhat under the radar. At the minimum, it seems the Rangers are a leaner a lot closer to nirvana than to disaster. Let's review tonight's game:
Rick Nash: With all due respect to Carl Hagelin, who played very well tonight, I thought Rick Nash was robbed of the first star. He did all of the work on the first goal, using his stature and strength to cut towards the middle and fire a shot off despite two Tampa players putting their sticks all over him. Hagelin getting a piece of it was accidental. And he put in his third goal of the season with a nice shot from the left wing as time was winding down. Overall, the Tampa defense had no answer for stopping Rick Nash and he particularly made the big Victor Hedman, one of the better defensive defensemen in the NHL, look silly. I think if you asked the Tampa defense who the best Rangers forward was tonight they'd agree it was Nash.
Henrik Lundqvist: Not that Lundqvist was particularly bad earlier in the season, but he has really stepped his game up to his elite level the last few games. Over the 60 minutes tonight the Rangers were clearly the better team and deserved the win, but there was a window for the Lightning to get back into the game thanks to a number of odd man rushes. Had Tampa managed to take advantage of one then the game would have played out completely differently. Luckily, Henke was sharp and bailed the team out.
The Fourth Line: How far we've come in only a week or two. At one point Tortorella basically refused to even acknowledge the fourth line's existence since they were contributing little. Ever since the roster changes the fourth line has regained a purpose for John Tortorella. Asham, Halpern, and Powe all played their best games as Rangers tonight, getting pucks into the Tampa zone and then keeping it there with a lot of forechecking and grinding. It's not pretty, but it's essential. Ryan Callahan's goal, the one that really set the tone for tonight, was the result of an exhausted Tampa defense turning the puck over to Cally, who had a clear break for the net. It was the persistence of the fourth line that made Tampa prone to that error. Asham capped it off with his first goal as a Ranger.
I want to give special mention to Darroll Powe. Brandon Prust came to the Rangers as an afterthought and very slowly built a role on the team and became a key representative of the team's identity. Darroll Powe, in his first few games as a Ranger, reminds me of Prust in his first season with the team. He has very little skill, but he has everlasting energy and is willing to do all of the ugly things behind the scenes that set up everyone else for getting on the statsheet. He blocks shots. He works hard on the PK, he's tenacious on the forecheck every shift. Again, I'm not going to get enamored over a few games, but Powe has a real chance of becoming a key role player for this Rangers team. It's not a trade of any real magnitude in the way the Gomez trade was, but how Sather was able to ship away the broken Mike Rupp and bring in a high energy player like Powe is unknown to me.
Line Changes: I don't know what the hell the issue is, but it seems every game the Rangers manage to give up a goal or get a too many men on the ice penalty thanks to a sloppy line change. Tonight, a lethargic line change allowed Tampa to counter, get the puck cleanly into the Rangers' zone, and ultimately score their only goal of the game. They look like a bunch of blindfolded giraffes playing musical chairs. With all of the complexities and difficulties of a hockey game, it's absolutely ridiculous to let line changes bring you down. Communication is key.
JT Miller: A solid, though unspectacular game from him tonight. I bring him up because we have now seen him three games, and he has two more before the Rangers have to decide whether to send him down or keep him up and burn a year of his entry-level contract. Tortorella gave him almost 14 minutes of icetime tonight, including 3:19 on the powerplay, so Tortorella clearly trusts him on the ice. He managed two shots and drew two penalties, so he did contribute. However, it's only been three games. The worst thing the Rangers could do is keep him up, give him 8-10 minutes per night on the fourth line, and ruin his development (ask the Islanders how that worked out with Josh Bailey). We're afforded two more games before a decision has to be made, but Sather and Tortorella will be left with no choice but to make a decision based on only a handful of games. Much like playing Kreider in the playoffs last season, keeping Miller up is a decision that is somewhat of a leap of faith. We'll see how he does in the next two, but through three games it's clear that the Rangers are a better team with JT on the ice.
Matt Gilroy: Not too much to say about Matt. But really that's more or less what you want from your 6th defenseman; invisibility. His speed alone makes him a better option than Stu Bickel, and he had a nice give and go play tonight through the neutral zone to set up a shot. If you have speed then you have a chance under John Tortorella. I think Gilroy has earned a spot in the lineup for the short-term.
With the win, the Rangers are now 4-0-0 for games in which Kevin DeLury does not write the recap. Feel free to draw your own conclusions from that. I'm not endorsing any particular violence or actions but if Kevin somehow goes missing tomorrow I'll plead ignorance.
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