Still, the fact that the very next game happens to be one where Stepan conducts a blitzkrieg of offensive outpouring, scoring a goal and adding two primary assists on his way to the First Star, is pretty awful luck. Stepan's been playing better in recent games and a regression to the mean was inevitable, but for him to unleash like that the very next day… Oh, poor Kevin. Not that he'll be disappointed.
Anyway, Stepan gets and deserves the headlines for an exceptional performance and one he was well overdue for. But this was a fantastic game from pretty much everyone in a Ranger jersey. True team effort. It's a group that looked – and has looked – so finetuned and well organized that it's almost unthinkable that they were a dysfunctional mess weeks ago. Have they found their footing or is this 7-2-1 streak simply a nice stretch in what will end up an otherwise irrelevant season? We'll see. For now, let's just enjoy the ride and what has been some successful and entertaining hockey. Keep reading for some more
drunk in-depth thoughts of mine.
Cam Talbot: The "goaltending controversy" was stupid and irrational and non-existent from the beginning. Talbot knows his role, and that's behind Henrik Lundqvist. Still, that's not a knock at Talbot's ability or his importance to the team. Today's game was kind of a microcosm of Talbot's short NHL career. He's not going to wow you or make a ridiculous run of saves, but he does his job, stays in control when the team is on its heels, and ultimately does more than enough to put your team in a place to win the game. The Rangers did a great job of limiting the Senators' top weapons, but 29 saves on 30 shots is no sleepwalk performance. In a salary cap world you have to squeeze value out every roster spot and particularly can't afford to spend chunks of cap space on the back-end of your roster. Talbot's been a very good backup, which in itself is great. But there is no overstating how paying a goaltender of his caliber $562K through next season is a big deal when most teams are paying between $1-2 million for similar or worse performance.
Rick Nash: There's been a lot of wondering what has been wrong with Rick Nash. Maybe he was battling injuries. Maybe he had mental roadblocks. Maybe he was doing something technically wrong. I don't know. What I do know is that most concern was overblown because most of his bad games could be written up to bad luck, and regression to the mean was inevitable. A beautiful snipe tonight gives him five goals in his last seven games. There's your regression to the mean. Stepan, Nash, and Lundqvist have shown that, while you can make adjustments, sometimes the best cure for poor play is time. Eventually things have a way of reaching equilibrium. Six shots for Nash, the great goal, and a positive Corsi. This team is tremendously deprived of shooters and, even if it's unfair, the Rangers need Nash to take on a heavy load. He wasn't doing it in November. He is in January.
Mats Zuccarello: Look, I'm a journalist in training and one of the biggest parts of that is maintaining objectivity. But how can you not fall in love with Mats Zuccarello? The guy is an Oompa Loompa but finds ways to bounce off defenders and make plays. He takes no abuse from anyone and will dish out a slash or facewash (if he can reach) whenever someone takes a liberty. And he makes plays. Though Chris Phillips didn't exactly have his best moment, Zuccarello made a great read to force the takeaway and put his signature deke on Anderson to seal the game. He was credited with three hits. He was part of the unit that really limited Karlsson and Michalek at even strength. The points are a focal point and they need to be, but he's really turned into a well-rounded player. And the Rangers are paying him with shoe strings and whatever change Glen Sather has in his pockets that day. He's now tied for 49th in the NHL in points. He's going to get a nice paycheck this summer and it's going to be well deserved.
Ryan McDonagh: Another assist. Another 22+ minutes of shutting down the team's top line. Credit is shared with Girardi, but McDonagh has been and will continue to be the team's most important defenseman. Bobby Ryan, who is top-45 in the NHL in shots, was held to only one today. Kyle Turris only had two. McDonagh is, if not the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL, pretty damn close. And the assist tonight ties him for 13th among defensemen in points. He absolutely deserves to be in the Norris discussion.
Brad Richards: A strong game for Richards. He got the tying goal for the Rangers on the PP and earned five total shots. He held his own in the faceoff circle against a tremendous faceoff center in Jason Spezza. Richards has broken into the top 45 in points, with 36 in 50 games. Maybe those aren't the elite numbers you want from a guy with a $6.66M cap hit, but he's a big asset to this team and certainly a world away from last year's disaster.
My head hurts and I'm hungry. You get the idea. A great team effort and the team's best players played like the best players. Also a strong showing from Staal, Del Zotto, and Stralman. Pouliot and Brassard made things happen alongside Zuccarello and Captain Taco in particular had six hits. They were the team's best line in terms of Corsi. I'm sure if you nag Kevin he'll give you a reason the #CarcilloAffect was important. The Rangers get right back at it tomorrow night at MSG against the Capitals. It's an important divisional matchup; the Rangers have three points on the Caps but have also played two more games. A lot at stake, or at least as much as you can expect in January. I'm going to make some tortilla pizzas. Feel free to leave some comments or laugh at Kevin or both.
Post game talk:
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