The New York Rangers completed a brutal seven game road trip to open their season last night with their win in Winnipeg. While the play on the ice was far from pretty for the majority of those seven games, the fact that they came through a 3-2-2 record should be cause for optimism. How long that optimism lasts will be up the play on the ice, which aside from goaltending, Gaborik, Richards, Girardi and McDonagh has been lacking for significant portions of the opening stretch.
Last night’s performance was still lacking, but within the game there were flashes of what the Rangers need to do to be successful long-term. Getting two power play goals, only taking one penalty and Ryan Callahan getting back to his game were all tremendously positive signs going forward in fixing some of the ailments the team has had thus far. The continued stellar play of Gaborik, Girardi and McDonagh as well as Biron proving again that he can let Lundqvist rest were further signs of optimism.
Beyond the individual players, the most noticeable thing from last night’s performance was once again the Rangers are most successful when they keep it simple. A huge problem for the Rangers to open the year has been trying too hard to make the perfect play, especially in the offensive zone. Both goals last night had no flash and no flare too them as they were just basic hockey principles.
The Rangers first power play goal got away from the cute pass the puck around stagnant play the Rangers had been seeing with the man advantage and saw some aggression. Starting early in the man advantage Callahan receives the puck from Boyle down low and fires at the net hitting the crossbar. The Rangers have Fedotenko and Boyle in front during the battle for the puck and while they don’t score right there it keeps the puck alive for Callahan in the corner. Rangers then work the puck back to the point and instead of staying stagnant at the left point Girardi moved to the middle of the ice forcing all the other Rangers players to move. With Ruslan Fedotenko setup high in the slot and Boyle battling down low, Girardi fired a shot pass to Fedotenko for the redirection. Nothing fancy at all, just basic hockey that resulted in a goal.
The Rangers second power play goal was also basic as they stuck to the adage of throwing pucks at the net and watching good things happen. The Rangers entry was a simple one where Girardi hit Fedotenko in motion in the neutral zone and he found Callahan with a tape to tape pass as he entered the zone. Callahan continued down the boards and fired the puck towards the front looking for Fedotenko who was driving the goal mouth hard, but the Rangers got a fortunate bounce as it went of Bogosian’s skate and in.
Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards give the Rangers two elite skill players in their lineup and those two will provide the Rangers will some highlight reel action this season, but for the rest of the lineup the focus has to be on keeping it simple. The team still is not doing it enough as their forecheck is not where they want it and only getting 17 shots on net is certainly not pressuring the goaltender, but last night had some signs of how this team going back to things that have been successful in the past. Players like Callahan and Fedotenko, who were both excellent last night, lead the way in the kind of play and that is how the secondary scoring will return. Hopefully being over .500 after the grueling trip to start the season and being back home will bring out more of that throughout the lineup.