While Jim Dolan needs to wait a little bit before he clears space in his trophy case for the Stanley Cup, the owner going into tonight’s match up against the Pittsburgh Penguins had plenty to be happy about.
The numbers at this point in the season are very impressive. How impressive you ask ? Let’s start with their record against Atlantic Division rivals, after their Oct 15th loss to the New York Islanders, the Rangers have reeled off nine straight wins against division rivals, outscoring opponents 33-17 in those 10 contests. The Rangers .705 winning percentage through 44 games is their best start in 40 years, when the 1971-72 team had a .761 winning mark.
Looking deeper into the numbers the Rangers home record through 20 games (14-4-2 30 points)is the best start at home since the 1995-96 season. Still digging deeper into the numbers going into tonights match,you find the Rangers are tied with 62 points for most in the NHL, they lead the league in winning percentage and they are tied for first in regulation /overtime wins with 27. They also lead the league in fewest regulation losses (11), they lead the league in hits with 1,281. Want more numbers? They are tied for the NHL lead in GAA at an amazing 1.98 .
What do all those numbers mean? Ask John Tortorella and anyone of his players and they will tell you “absolutely nothing.”
When asked about his bosses opinion about the Rangers being close to the cup , Brandon Dubinsky put it in perspective. “It gives you confidence and it’s nice to know he is behind you, but we know we have a lot of work in front of us, the season is long, we’ve got to focus on one day at a time, I know it sounds like a broken record.”
If the Rangers needed a reminder of how fragile the fate of an NHL season is,they need to look no further then the Pittsburgh Penguins. Looking back on that squad that won the Stanley Cup back in the 2009 season, Pens fans had to feel confident with the knowledge that they had maybe the best player in the league headed into his prime and that there might be a few more cups in the near future.
While the two seasons following the Cup actually have shown a statistical improvement, the Penguins have only won one playoff round since the championship. In consecutive games,in the 2010-11 January 1, 2011, against the Capitals and January 5 against the Lightning, Sidney Crosby suffered hits to his head.After experiencing several concussion symptoms, Crosby did not return for the rest of the regular season, and he missed the 2010–11 Stanley Cup Playoffs.The Penguins were further crippled when Evgeni Malkin suffered a torn ACL and MCL, taking him out for the rest of the season. These are prime examples of how things change drastically in the NHL.
The Rangers hit the ice with all the gaudy numbers but for the first six minutes of play those numbers were meaningless. The home team had a chance early on when Ruslan Fedotenko had a wide open net but couldn’t get his stick on the puck, that miscue led to a quick break out play by Paul Martin whose point blank slap shot was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist. Brian Boyle’s inability to pick up Chris Kunitz before he could get to the rebound resulted in Kunitz’s 14th of the season and a 1-0 Pens lead.
The Rangers were sluggish over the first nine minutes of the opening frame until defenseman Stu Bickel dropped the gloves with Eric Tangradi. Up until that point Pittsburgh held the edge in shots on goal 8-0. The Rangers became engaged with physical play from Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle. Boyle and the Penguins Zbynek Michalek went off for unsportsmanlike conduct and the period turned towards the Rangers as they had four quality shots on the ensuing 4-on-4 . The Rangers began to take control of the game outshooting the Pens 8-6 after the Bickel fight. The period ended with the Pens still holding the one goal lead.
The Rangers started the second period strong, and then got very questionable call against Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky was pulled down from behind and on his way down got called for a high stick. The Rangers killed the power play and Marc Staal just missed tying the score on an odd man rush with Dubinsky joining the play out of the box.
The Rangers continued to press and carry the play, another big save by Henrik Lundqvist led to Marian Gaborik sending Carl Hagelin for a 16 foot snap shot for the rookie’s eighth goal of season and pulling the Rangers even at the 10:16 mark.
As the period wore on the trio of Gaborik-Hagelin and Stepan appeared to be taking the game over, and the line drew a penalty at the tail end of the peroid. If there has been one negative this season , it would have to be the Rangers powerplay as they are 24th in the league with a 14.3 % success ratre. If the Rangers are going to make good on their owners dream of a Cup, this number must improve. It will be missed opportunities in close games like tonight that will hurt the Rangers once the second season that is known as the Stanley Cup playoffs start.
So would the final twenty minutes result in the Rangers adding their tenth consecutive win over an Atlantic Division foe , and adding to their stellar numbers thus far? Would the Rangers be headed into Boston with a showdown with last years Stanley cup Champion Bruins on a high or off of a loss?
Henrik Lundqvist in the midst of an MVP season made two big saves early on in the third to keep the game tied. The Ranger had a defensive breakdown that lead to a 3-on-1 that resulted in Richard Park’s fourth of the season at 2:23 of third. The Rangers never seemed to rebound from that goal and Evgeni Malkin made both Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto look like AHL defenseman as he skated around both and lifted a backhander into the back of the net for his 23rd of the season at 7:10 of the third. Gino added an empty netter to seal the Penguins fourth straight win.
So the numbers after Charles Dolan proclaimed the Rangers being close to the cup are not so gaudy. 0-1 at home, 0-1 against the Atlantic Division, a one-game losing streak, they have been outscored 4-1 in their last three periods of play. And now, they head into Boston against a very tough opponent.
Luckily for the Rangers their coach takes the season one game at a time, never getting too high after a win, and never too low after a loss. This team has shown the ability to put bad losses behind them very quickly.
When asked if games like tonight are important in the long grind that is the NHL season and if you can learn more from a loss then you can from a win coach John Tortorella pointed out, “Whether, we win lose or tie, well I guess you don’t tie in this league anymore, we try to learn from all of them.”
When pressed as to why it took a Stu Bickel fight to get the team going the coach said, “Pittsburgh shoots from everywhere, at the end of the first period the chances were even, Bick comes up with a big fight for us. I agree with you, we get our game going and then I thought we played real well the second period, but our team has to understand if your going to have a record like you have teams are going to start looking for you and their going to be ready to play and we weren’t.”
They get another chance to be ready at 1 PM Saturday afternoon. Based on the track record thus far this season, the coach will have them ready.