Let’s make this much clear. The Edmonton Oilers are a bad hockey team. Not just a bad hockey team, but a bad hockey team with absolutely no confidence. Even a team like Buffalo, who have less talent than many KHL teams, at least have some life and play with some purpose. The Oilers have no redeeming qualities and it showed tonight.
Of course, the Rangers didn’t pick their schedule. They were handed the Oilers, and so they beat the Oilers. There are never any guarantees, and the Rangers did what they needed to do; put a wounded animal out of its misery. No drama. No keeping the Oilers in the game. No beating themselves. They absolutely demolished a team that they should be demolishing. No more, no less. Even if it’s not a “statement game” or anything of the sort, it doesn’t change the satisfaction that comes from individual performances and the two points the team earns. Keep reading for some of my thoughts.
Rick Nash: Took advantage of a poor defense like elite forwards are supposed to. Two goals on four shots. Could have had the hat-trick if Ben Scrivens was a bit more forgiving. The two goals gives Rick Nash 25 on the year, and for all the abuse Nash has taken he is tied with Patrick Kane with .42 goals-per-game; good for 16th in the NHL for forwards who have played at least 40 games. That’s a pace of 35.3 goals over a full season. Would you like him to be a bit higher? Sure, ideally. But, especially when accounting for his recovery from the concussion, he’s perfectly within range of what reasonable expectations should be.
Derek Stepan: Three assists. Though we have to give “credit” to the Oilers for being a dysfunctional, unmotivated mess, he did make a very good effort shorthanded to evade the three players hovering around him and set up Zuccarello for the shorthanded goal. Though to a lesser extent than Nash, Stepan has also received some questionable criticism (We love you, Kevin!) but has been performing close to expectations as well. NHL.com has him ranked as 24th among NHL centers in points, with 53, and he’s been perfectly fine defensively. A low-end first line center at only 23 years old, Stepan is doing what he needs to be doing, and did as much tonight as well.
Mats Zuccarello: A desperately needed two-goal, three-point night for Zuccarello. Goalless in his last 18 games, Zuccarello made a very nice deflection on an early Anton Stralman shot to put the Rangers ahead. He, along with Stepan, put in the work shorthanded and put a nice shot on net that Scrivens had no chance at. The assist came off of Brassard’s flukey goal, but he still did a good job of gaining the zone and getting the puck deep. John Tortorella used to say that it “doesn’t matter” how offensive players get their points, and so the fact that it was against the Oilers is irrelevant. Theoretically, it gives Zuccarello some confidence and he gets back into pre-Olympic form.
Cam Talbot: Probably the lamest 26-save shutout in the history of hockey, but it counts. I don’t think he was forced to make a single non-routine save, but we’ve seen enough subpar goaltending performances – especially from backup goaltenders – to know that even mediocre shots still can get by. The Rangers played well in front of Talbot, and he finished the job by making the saves that were required. With only six games left in the season and playoff seeding still up for grabs this could have been Talbot’s last start of the season. If so, a round of applause for a more-than-adequate season from a guy who was never supposed to be on the NHL roster in the first place. He has the
lowest second-lowest GAA (1.67) and highest Save Percentage (.940) in the NHL for goaltenders with at least 20 games played. That’s well beyond what could have reasonably been expected of him and he has absolutely established himself as one of the most reliable backup goaltenders in the NHL.
Martin St. Louis: Played very well, but didn’t get on the scoresheet. It would be one thing if he was just invisible, but he’s putting himself in very good scoring areas. The puck just isn’t bouncing in his favor right now. Eventually, it will.
The Defense: It would be a waste of time singling anyone out. McDonagh and Girardi were fine, but didn’t need to put in the effort usually necessary. Staal and Stralman looked like their pre-Olympic selves. Both were strong defensively and contributed offensively. Staal made the play defensively to send the Rangers the other way shorthanded, with Zuccarello scoring. Stralman put pucks towards the net and got the assist on the Zuccarello deflection. Klein and Diaz didn’t screw up. All six guys had positive Corsis and, if John Moore is indeed healthy enough for next game, I see no reason he would be put in. Even if Edmonton is a bad team, there is still plenty of individual talent on that roster which could have burned the Rangers, and coming off a disastrous effort against Calgary it’s a step in the right direction.
Though the Rangers haven’t been in any sort of jeopardy for a while, this win virtually cements a playoff spot for the Rangers. Sports Club Stats has it as a 99.7% chance of making the playoffs and even a severe meltdown the rest of the way would still likely see them make the cut. At this point, the concern shifts to seeding, and particularly, getting home-ice advantage in the first round. The Rangers have a weak remaining schedule and, though not technically, essentially control their own destiny here.
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