Unlike the lyrics in the Beatles song, “Eight Days a Week” for the Rangers is enough to show they truly care.
Over the past eight days the Rangers, after having defeated the New York Islanders 2-1 in overtime Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum, have extended their winning streak to four games. That streak coincided with the return of Rick Nash to the lineup. He is currently tied for the team lead with eight goals on the season, with all eight of his goals being tallied in the third period. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player in franchise history whose first eight goals to begin the season all came in the final period. The ease and grace in which he plays has long time Rangers beat writer Larry Brooks calling him “The Big Easy.” His highlight reel moves night after night no longer amaze his teammates, quite the opposite, they expect it. To say this team plays differently without him in the lineup is stating the obvious, how much different is the key though. Some of the most noticeable is the elevation in the level of play by Derek Stepan, who quietly assisted on both goals on the Island. Stepan now has tallied at least one point in the last four (2-4-6) and is coming off back-to-back multiple point outings.
Marian Gaborik got the game winner against the Isles, and it seemed like a burden had been lifted off his shoulders , when asked last night about the game winner, he responded “it feels great to get that monkey off my back, I haven’t scored in a few games, especially to get the game winner, you know every time you don’t score for a few games you grip your stick a little tighter,and hopefully they will come in bunches.”
While Gaborik seemed like a huge weight had been lifted over his shoulders, that remains to be seen as while he did break a eight-game goalless streak with that game winner, his streak stands at 16 games without a goal against a team other than the Islanders, dating back to the first month of the season against Toronto. Would tonight be the night that Gaborik gets his goals in bunches ?
The return of Brad Richards moved Derek Stepan off Rick Nash’s line and onto a line with Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan’s while some might argue that the Stepan-Nash-Hagelin line should be left as a unit(including me), the move makes sense from a hockey standpoint,as it should help both Richards and Gaborik to elevate their play. One other lineup change had Brian Boyle as a healthy scracth as he has becomes head coach John Tortorella’s “Nowhere Man.” When pressed as to why Boyle was not in the lineup, the coach responded by saying ”other guys were playing better.” I am unsure what the coach saw in Stu Bickel’s game on the Island that had him in the lineup over Boyle, but this is a move I am very puzzled by, unless it is designed to light a fire under a key role player for the team. The Rangers came out looking like a team that had a long ride home from a game the night before against a team that sat in a hotel last night. Before they could establish any type of rhythm they found themselves down 1-0 on a beautiful redirect deflection by Zack Smith for his second of the season at 6:18 of the first.
Sensing his team was not competing, Tortorella called a time out but shortly there after Marian Gaborik would be called for a tripping at 10:25, which the Senators cashed in 25 seconds later on a Peter Wiercioch snap shot. When asked what he said to his time during the time out the coach responded to the reporter ” that it was none of his business, no offense” Rick Nash must have been tired about being asked about his third period goal scorer prowess and thought that a goal that would cut the deficit in half early would be just as important as a third period tally, so 13 seconds later he got the Rangers on the board.
As the period moved on Micheal Haley got the biggest ovation of a Ranger player wearing the number 32 since 1994 when he didn’t back down from Chris Phillips challenge when it was all sorted out the Senators defenseman took a total of 19 minutes of penalties to Haley’s 7 and it also resulted in a two minute Ranger powerplay . Although the Rangers didn’t score on the ensuing power play it did shift the ice a bit. If moving Richards back with Nash to get him going was the coaches intention it paid dividends as Brad Richards scored his third goal of the season and his first since, you guessed it , against Toronto in the first month of the season(see a pattern here).
The second period was played with high energy and at a quicker pace that you would expect on a second of a back to back, with the Rangers outshooting the Senators by one and dead even after two periods at 22 a piece. J.T. Miller brought the first Friday night Ranger crowd to a frenzy with a duck and cover rush that culminated with a perfect pass to Michael Del Zotto, who one-timed one off the pipe . Not to be outdone Jacob Silverberg made a series of moves that undressed Anton Stralman who had no choice but to take a penalty which the Rangers killed off. Carl Hagelin ended the period with a last second rush put was denied by pad save by Robin Lehner, setting up a great third period.
The Rangers came out flying in the third as if to make a statement that Rick Nash isn’t the only Blueshirt who owns the third. Over the first half of the period the Rangers outshoot the Senators 11 to 5. Perhaps the best scoring opportunity came off a beautiful defensive play by Ryan Callahan who striped Chris Phillips of the puck and passed it to Marian Gaborik behind net, who feathered a pass to Stepan alone in front, but Robin Lehner reached out his blocker making a key save to keep score tied. As the clock wound down another Beatles song came to mind a “Hard Day’s Night” as every whistle resulted in a scrum which Ryan Callahan seemed to be in the center of.The Senators seemed to be withstand the best the Rangers had to give and turned the tide.
While no one would say the Lehner stop on Stepan was the turning point, captain Ryan Callahan acknowledged “that’s a big save definitely, we kept coming after that, I don’t think it was right away that they started to pressure us, but obviously it’s a big save for them and it lifts up their bench and you know it happens alot with us with Hankie so we know how that feels.”
Derek Stepan added ” he made a good save came across got his blocker up, I could shoot myself for myself for it but he made a good save, a great pass by Gabby just doesn’t find its way in” That well could have been the difference right there as Jakob Silfverberg’s goal with 4:41 remaining snapped the Rangers season-best four-game winning streak.and gave the Ottawa Senators to a 3-2 victory .
So keeping with the Mini Beatles theme here the Rangers just need to “Let it Be” and hope the upcoming road trip turns into a “Magical Mystery Tour” and that the new lines allow Rick Nash to get by “With a Little Help From His Friends”….