NEW YORK – Over the summer, there were questions whether Oscar Lindberg would make the Rangers out of training camp.
Suffice to say, those questions have been answered.
Lindberg continued a torrid start to his rookie season, scoring the opening goal 7:59 into the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Capitals on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden. He also assisted on their second goal nearly ten minutes later, for his second-career multi-point game.
The Swedish-born 24-year-old leads all National Hockey League rookies with six goals. That list includes budding superstars Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Dylan Larkin.
“I wasn’t expecting it coming in,” Lindberg said. “But I’m happy with the way I’ve been playing and the way the team has been playing.”
“He has a lot of skill,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Lindberg. “He finds open ice very well, and he can make plays. Also, he plays a smart game in our end, which is important. Sometimes young guys come up and they’re so focused on scoring goals, they forget the other side of the game. I think he understands that he needs to be smart all over the ice, and that’s why he’s here.”
It wasn’t all pretty for the first-place Rangers (8-2-2). They were outshot in the second period 14-2, and out-attempted at even strength in that period, 25-6. But Lundqvist (32 saves) held firm, and the Rangers took advantage of their limited opportunities. They also took advantage of a poor performance by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who allowed 5 goals on 21 shots.
“We’re not jumping in the air right now,” said forward Derick Brassard. “We’re pretty aware we beat a pretty good team, but at the same time we know we didn’t play our best hockey. When you win a game, you take it, you take the points, but we have to come out with a better execution in Colorado for the next game.”
“Maybe you’re not on top of your game, maybe we had too many turnovers, but at the same time we’ve been talking the past couple of weeks about finding ways to win games,” Lundqvist said. “I think we did a great job of making them pay on their mistakes, and for the most part we played a pretty smart game.”
Those are all just details to a larger picture. The Rangers, playing for just the second time in nine days, played one of their best first periods of the season. They took a 2-1 lead into the intermission when Kevin Hayes answered Alex Ovechkin’s game-tying goal.
They added two more goals during a second period spent nearly entirely in their own end – including a goal without officially registering a shot when Brassard’s pass to the snake-bit Rick Nash was deflected into the net by Capitals forward Marcus Johansson.
“We always say in the room, every time we win a game we did something positive out there,” Brassard said. “At the end of the day, we’re pretty aware we can be maybe a little bit better.”
It wasn’t their best performance – the Rangers continue to struggle with 60-minute efforts. But for one night, it was enough against the team they knocked out of last year’s playoffs in Game 7 of the second round.
“I definitely think it was a big win for us against a really good team,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “Obviously we could have had a full 60-minute game with not so much time in our end, and made some better plays with the puck, better puck management, but overall I think it’s a great game for us against a really good team that was in the top of our division.”
“It’s more important right now to win games than to play perfect,” Lundqvist said. “You’re not going to have many perfect games early in the season.”
The Rangers improved to 102-1-1 in their last 104 regular season games when scoring at least four goals.
The Rangers are 26-4-3 in their last 33 games against Metropolitan Division opponents.
The Rangers improved to 8-0-0 this season when scoring at least three goals. They’ve allowed no more than two goals in all eight of their wins.