NEW YORK – On November 5th, Brian Boyle set a new career-high for goals scored in a season, when he scored his fifth of the season.
After his power-play goal tonight, he’s up to a team-high 18 goals and has become the biggest surprise on these Rangers, who lost to Florida Tuesday night, 4-3, to close the unofficial first half of the year at 29-20-3.
“Our way of succeeding is everyone has chipped in. I don’t think Brian was dead-on tonight, but he made some big plays at key times, and [Stepan] scores another one,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said after the game. “Everyone contributes. That’s what brings our team together. There’s no one guy that carries us. I think everybody feels good about that.”
And, for these surprising players, it’s no longer a surprise. In fact, they expect to be leaders on the stat sheet.
“I’m a confident kid,” said 20-year-old rookie Derek Stepan, who scored his 14th goal of the season on a rebound. “I’ve played well so far and I’ve worked hard. If you would have told me last year I was going to have 14 goals in the NHL, I would have laughed at you and said that’s crazy. But in the same sense, I’ve worked hard, had great line mates all year long, a great coach, great team. Everything’s worked out.”
“You have to [expect it]. They do too,” Tortorella said. “They need to accept the responsibility. When they see they get to a level of play at a pretty consistent manner, they have to continue to stay there and also get better. That’s what happened with a number of our young guys, and Brian’s led the way. He continues to try to get better. That’s what I like about the club. The foundation continues to mature and continues to try to get better. They’ve got the right attitude as far as trying to get better each and every night.”
Stepan, who will represent the Rangers in the Skills Competition in Raleigh on Saturday, is third in the NHL among rookies with 30 points.
Then you have Norwegian rookie Mats Zuccarello, who had an NHL career-high three assists Tuesday. After being called up last month from the Wolfpack/Whale, Zuccarello has tallied 11 points (3-8-11) in only 17 games.
“He made some really good plays tonight, as far as some plays that I don’t think most guys would see. He’s really concentrating on the other part of his game, the defensive part of the game,” Tortorella said of Zuccarello. “He’s brought a lot to the club. He continues to improve. The thing I love about him, he thinks he belongs here. He knows he’s a good player. That’s a pretty refreshing attitude to have.”
The Rangers out-shot Florida, 35-17, including 11-1 in the third period. But that one shot turned into Mike Weaver’s second tally of the season. His long drive deflected off Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s glove, popped up into the air, fell behind Lundqvist (13 saves), and rolled into the net. It was a frustrating way to enter the All Star Break after the Rangers tied the game with two goals in 1:51 early in the third.
“This was just a real frustrating loss for us,” Lundqvist said. “We definitely deserved to win. They just had all the luck.”
“You get greedy,” Tortorella said. “You wanted to win, I thought we were going to squeeze out a point tonight, I thought we played well enough to squeeze out a point.”
With seven of their top twelve forwards on the injured list, the Rangers, who just finished a stretch of five games in seven days, now get an entire week off. They won’t reconvene until Monday after Sunday’s mid-season exhibition. New York expects to have Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi ready for their next game in seven days, with Brandon Dubinsky not far away.
“We wanted it tonight, we want to win them all,” Boyle said. “It’s disappointing right now. It’s a good grind with some injuries, but it’s no excuse. We had a chance tonight where we could have played better in some areas.”
“As I always say, approach your team the next day – which will be in five or six days – with how are they playing,” Tortorella said. “I still like a lot of things that went on in tonight’s game.”
After the game, the Rangers sent Michael Del Zotto, Chad Kolarik, Brodie Dupont, Kris Newbury, and Evgeny Grachev back to Connecticut so they can play Friday and Saturday. Some of them may return to New York after the break.
Callahan and Vinny Prospal and were returned to the active roster off Injured Reserve. The move was mostly cosmetic, as the team must carry at least 20 players on the active roster at all times.