Yesterday’s game between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers was the first meeting of the season between the two Eastern Conference powerhouses. For most of the season, these two clubs have just dominated the opposition and have vaulted themselves to the top of the league standings. It is no surprise that the Bruins are where they are, after having won a Stanley Cup this past spring and not having much of a turnover. The Rangers, however, have been a surprise for many who expected they would be battling for the sixth, seventh, or eighth spots in the East. Yes, you can count me as one of the surprised. When Marian Gaborik scored in overtime yesterday with 3.6 seconds to go, I was at work in the break room and yelled. Of course, being that many people were at my job, they were all confused and a few were afraid I think. But now that my emotions have leveled off and I have gotten a chance to watch the highlights a few times, there are a few things that have stood out:
- More Power will Equal More Wins: Obviously, I am stating the obvious here, but it has been more evident with the last two games. The powerplay needs to get going for the boys in blue. Going back to Thursday night’s debacle vs. Pittsburgh, what a different feel that game would have had if the Rangers had even gotten one powerplay goal. Fast-forward to yesterday and the powerplay finally cashed in during the waning seconds. If this game had been at MSG the place would have had the boo-birds out in full force. Just like the fans, the players need to relax on the powerplay and make smart plays and keep things simple. When things aren’t working, you go back to the fundamentals on the powerplay: puck movement, foot movement, and traffic in front of the net. The latter is never an issue when Ryan Callahan plants himself there, but what we did see big yesterday was some of that puck and foot movement. The goal was to get the puck to the net with Brad Richards and Gaborik firing one-timers when the shooting lanes were there. When the team was on the rush they crashed the net and cashed one in. Whether that one goal sparks the powerplay for the future remains to be seen, but when the Rangers were rolling during their winning streaks, the powerplay was a factor even when it wasn’t scoring actual goals. It gave the team momentum, which can be even more valuable than one goal on a powerplay.
- The Big Guns Need to Get Going: Gaborik had two goals yesterday and was an absolute animal all over the ice. He was forechecking and shooting well all over the offensive zone while making plays in the defensive zone. Callahan had a goal yesterday as well, when he sniped one in on Tuukka Rask. These guys score and the Rangers win; it is that simple. Brad Richards had his first point yesterday in what has seemed like forever. As much as I love the play of Carl Hagelin, he can’t be the only offensive force for the Rangers. Everyone goes through slumps but the big guns for the Rangers need to get going and some of the supporting cast as well. Artem Anisimov has been invisible for many games, and while Brandon Dubinsky has played well, he just can’t seem to get points. Derek Stepan has a good game and then disappears for a bit and then comes back. It is all about consistency. It is hard to win games when most of the top offensive guys on the team go cold at the same time. Hopefully this game sparks some of them to get a move on, because the Rangers need them badly.
- Playoffs Have Begun: The style of play in that game yesterday reminded me of a playoff game and that is how the Rangers have to play the rest of the season. Being at the top of the league means teams are going to be gunning for them and the only way to make sure teams do not beat them is by consistently playing well. Everyone wants to knock them out and if this team wants to have success in the playoff picture come April, they need to establish a certain level of play. It has slowly been developing all seaso,n but yesterday was another benchmark in establishing that game which they need for the rest of the season.
- NHL Needs to Get Serious: If the NHL is indeed serious about getting rid of dangerous hits and having players respect each other, than they need to take a hard-line stance on someone like Andrew Ference. Yes, he has no prior history but that shouldn’t matter. A dangerous play is a dangerous play, and if you want people to stop doing hits like this then you need to be hard on them. Hopefully Ryan McDonagh is alright and his injury won’t keep him out too long.
- Playoff Preview? If this game was a preview for what we may see in the playoffs then sign me up. Obviously, these teams meet three more times over the rest of the regular season, but what a playoff series these two teams would have! It would become an absolute war and would be a great series to watch. Yesterday certainly lived up to the hype of the matchup with the Rangers coming out on top for round one. A seven game series between these two? Even though I would have a stake in one team, I would be sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Everyone remembers when the owner of the Rangers, James Dolan, made a surprise appearance the other night and declared the Rangers are close to winning a Stanley Cup. John Tortorella instantly shut him down on that one and rightfully so. Dolan represented the bandwagon that is beginning to develop with the Rangers having a successful season (so far). If the Rangers continue where they are then you can bet there will be more and more fans coming out of the woodwork. I have noticed a lot more people wearing Rangers gear around these days and it is nice to see the team is finally getting recognition. But by no means is this team where it needs to be. Things need to be worked on and certain expectations need to be met first. Whether it is issues of consistency or discipline or anything else, this team has a long way to go before they can be what the Bruins or Blackhawks or Penguins or Red Wings or any other past Stanley Cup champion has been…but they are certainly on their way there.
Chris Hoeler is the assistant director of player personnel for the Danbury Whalers of the Federal Hockey League. He has been a fan of the New York Rangers his entire life.