The New York Rangers have found their legs and are employing their speed to elevate their position in the standings. The Broadway Blueshirts have won seven of their last eight, including last night’s matchup against their formidable foe, the Washington Capitals. The Rangers used a three-goal first period and tallied another in the second to drop the Capitals for the second time this season with a score of 4 to 1.
After playing an afternoon game in Ottawa Saturday, the Rangers knew they had to come out with a jump in order to get the crowd into the game and swing the momentum in their favor. The Capitals were also looking for a good start having dropped their last two games and slipping in the standings to the Philadelphia Flyers and Rangers. But it was the Rangers that grabbed the momentum and never let go.
“The starts are important. If you can jump out and start the right way and get the momentum, I think you set the tone for the rest of the game,” said Henrik Lundqvist.
The tone of the game was set 1:10 into the first period when Rick Nash, who has been a tour de force for the Rangers these past few games, made a great play along the boards to steal the puck from Dmitry Orlov who was making a pass to Nicklas Backstrom at the top of the Caps’ zone. Nash broke toward the net and beat Philipp Grubauer with a backhand on the glove side. The goal was the first of three Grubauer would give up before being pulled late in the first.
Special teams have been the difference maker in games and have resulted in wins and losses on a nightly basis throughout the league, including last night’s matchup. When the power play is producing and the penalty kill is impenetrable, a team has a very good chance at winning the game. The Rangers proved that their special teams are worthy of mention as they continue to find ways to score on the man advantage and prevent their opponents from capitalizing on their mistakes. Making opponents pay for their mistakes is something Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault has mentioned on multiple occasions. Last night was a prime example of how a team can do that. The Rangers scored a power play goal, as well as a short-handed goal that came at the most opportune time.
Martin Erat, who has been vocal about wanting a trade, took three penalties and helped the Rangers get their second goal on the two-man advantage. Erat was in the box for hooking when Karl Alzner got penalized 23 seconds after his teammate for the same infraction. With two Capitals in the box, the Rangers looked to widen the lead. It didn’t take long for Nash to once again find the back of the net. Nash was set up in the right circle while Ryan McDonagh and Brad Richards were at the top of the blue line setting up the power play. Richards slid a pass to Nash and he quickly snapped a wrist shot that found its way through Grubauer’s legs.
With Alzner still in the box, the Rangers again had the opportunity to widen the lead late in the first. Derek Stepan, who broke his 13-game scoring drought Saturday in Ottawa, came up big again. Defenseman Dan Girardi was deep in the offensive zone allowing Stepan to cover the point. As power play time expired and Alzner stepped out of the box, Stepan fired a shot that beat Grubauer top shelf glove side. His team down by three goals, Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates made a goaltending change replacing Grubaurer with Braden Holtby.
The second period could have been a disaster for the Rangers if not for Ryan Callahan. Chris Kreider took a penalty with less than a minute to go in the first, which meant the Capitals were starting the period on a power play. Things got worse as Carl Hagelin was called for hooking and the Caps were on a two-man advantage.
The Caps have the second most productive power play in the league and it has been thriving due to the team’s captain and scoring power house, Alex Ovechkin. Ovi, had 12 power play goals going into last night’s game and has been held pointless in the teams’ first three meetings. He snapped that drought and tallied his 13th power play goal, which leads the league, when he sent a one-timer sailing past Lundqvist. The goal came 59 seconds into the second. Could this be the momentum swing the Caps were looking for?
It seemed that way as they were still on the power play. But after the Caps captain showed his strength, Captain Callahan decided he wanted in on the action. The puck found its way to Dominic Moore after a scramble below the goal line. Moore took off down the left wing with Callahan following in his path. Moore fired a long-range shot on goal near the top of the blue line and Holtby left a long rebound that found Callahan’s stick. Callahan swept the puck into the net and his momentum sent him flying in right after it, knocking the net off its posts. The goal was another example of his gritty-style of play Rangers fans have come to know and appreciate.
Vigneault stated that a “short-handed goal really takes away any life a team can have.” Callahan’s SHG did just that and led to an uneventful third period as the Capitals could not find a way to start a comeback.
The Rangers played a solid 60-minute game and showed strong play at both ends of the ice, which has been noticed by the Rangers’ staff. Vigneault is happy his team is playing smart defensively while making their opponents second guess their decisions with the puck. The Blueshirts have handled the puck well and are receiving contributions throughout the four lines, including their top guns.
When speaking about Nash and Lundqvist, Vigneault said there are obvious expectations on how they are to perform. Across the board, the Rangers expect Nash to be the offensive force he has proven to be in the past while Lundqvist is expected to embody his nickname “The King” by making the big saves and giving his team the chance to win games.
“Those players are elite players. They are difference makers,” said Vigneault. “They need to find a way to make a difference in a positive way and that’s what those guys are doing for us right now.”
As most teams in the Metropolitan Division are only separated by a few points, the Rangers are going to have to continue to push their game even further and gain some space in a tight race before the Olympic break. The Rangers look to extend their winning streak to four as they take on their division rivals the New York Islanders Tuesday.