The Rangers entered Sunday’s matinee contest against the Anaheim Ducks feeling pretty good about themselves. After all, they were riding a 3 game winning streak and had gotten the hoped for offensive production from FA additions Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal. Plus they were catching the Ducks on the back end of two games in two nights.
The Rangers would have to be careful however. Steve Valiquette was making his first appearance of the young season and the Ducks showed some tremendous fortitude coming back from a 2 – 0 deficit against the Flyers; getting 2 late goals from Teemu Selanne in the final 6:47 and finally winning in a shootout. The victory was all the more impressive given it came on the road against one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers game plan was pretty obvious; work the puck in deep and work over the Ducks defense. The longer the Rangers could pressure the Ducks in their defensive zone, the more likely they would wear down the Ducks and come out on top.
The team executed their game plan to a tee, outshooting the Ducks 13 – 1 in the first period. In fact, using the Corsi Rating, the Rangers directed 29 shots toward the Ducks net while the Ducks only directed 4 shots toward the Rangers net. The Rangers finished with an astonishing +25 Corsi Rating in the 1st period. MSG color analyst, Joe Micheletti even referred to the 1st period as, and allow me to paraphrase, the finest period of Rangers hockey in quite some time.
Not surprisingly the Ducks looked flat and sluggish in the first. The Rangers seemed to be a step ahead for the entire period. But the Ducks showed their true colors by playing a much better second period. The shot count at the end of 2: Rangers 24 – Ducks 12. The score at the end of 2: Rangers 0 – Ducks 0.
This is where I started to get nervy. After dominating so much in the first and seeing a number of quality chances turned away by Ducks goalie J.S. Giguere, there was a palpable fear that the Ducks would re-create the magic from the night before. Fortunately for the Rangers, Ales Kotalik finally cashed in on the PP at the 2:14 mark. Kotalik finished off a spiffy passing play begun by Gaborik who fed Del Zotto on the left point. Del Zotto then faked a shot before passing the puck to Kotalik at the left circle. Kotalik fired the puck scoring the game’s first goal.
The game went back-and-forth with the score remaining 1 – 0 in favor of New York. At the 11:57 mark, Evgeni Artyukin took a double minor for high sticking Rangers Defenseman Marc Staal. After the Ducks killed off the first 2:25 seconds, rookie Artem Anisimov scored his first career NHL goal capping off a nifty passing play. Avery skated in behind the net in pursuit of the puck. He beat a Ducks defender and fed Vinny Prospal on the left wing side of the net before taking a big hit by Ducks Captain Scott Niedermayer. Prospal then shot a perfect pass to Anisimov in front of the cage and the rookie wasted no time firing off a perfect shot to stake the Rangers to a 2 – 0 lead. In typical Avery fashion, after the goal was scored, he could be seen jawing at Niedermayer as only Avery can.
Things got a bit dicey as Dubinsky took a double minor of his own at the 17:36 mark. Dubinsky was after a puck along the right wing boards when he tried to jump by Ducks defenseman Ryan Whitney. As he did, he was dragging his stick behind him and as he tried to raise his stick to get it over Whitney, he clipped the defender in the face. The stage was set if the Ducks were going to launch a second consecutive come-from-behind win. The Rangers would have none of that however.
Dan Girardi iced the game with a length of the ice shot resulting in a short-handed, empty-net goal. It was Girardi’s first of the year and capped off one of the best 60 minute performances I’ve seen of the Rangers in quite some time.
Here are some of the other things I noticed in this game:
Vinny Prospal – Prospal continues to impress; not only with his skill and savvy offensively but with his guts and determination. He engaged in quite the physical battle with Ducks C Saku Koivu. For a guy that doesn’t have a reputation as being a physical player, Prospal showed that he doesn’t lack in the guts department.
Michal Rozsival - After the 3rd period benching against the Capitals, Rozsival bounced back with a much better performance overall. He seemed more decisive with the puck and worked harder in the defensive zone.
Wade Redden – Maybe the best thing that can be said about Redden is that he has gone nearly unnoticed on the ice. Too often last season he was being noticed a lot, mainly because he was coughing the puck up or because he was being outmuscled on the puck. This season he has been much quieter; a sign that he isn’t losing those one-on-one battles and has made better decisions with the puck. His play is critical this season as he needs to serve as a mentor for rookies Matt Gilroy and Del Zotto. Redden also just missed his first goal of the season when his shot from the point deflected off Giguere and then hit the post in the third period.
Ales Kotalik – I won’t make a definitive “I was wrong,” statement about Kotalik….yet. Some of you may remember that I was very critical of the signing after it was announced. So far, I can’t argue with the production Kotalik has provided. Through 5 games Kotalik has come through with 3 goals and an assist. Two of his markers have been on the power play. To date, the Rangers PP is converting at a 20% clip (5 for 25). Even better, the Rangers have scored all 5 of their PPG in their last 16 attempts (31.3%). Some of that success can be attributed to the addition of Kotalik.
Steve Valiquette – Vally wasn’t severely tested in his 2009/2010 debut but was solid nonetheless. He stopped all 18 shots in recording his 4th career shutout. Tortorella will feel much better about resting Lundqvist if Vally can keep playing at this level.
Sean Avery – Has there ever been a player who needed a team as much as the team needed the player. Despite a 3 – 1 record to start minus Avery, the Rangers record with Avery in the lineup has been so much better than without him. Today he recorded an assist and maybe more importantly didn’t take any penalties while drawing a roughing call against Ryan Whitney that resulted in the Rangers first goal. He also finished tied for second on the Rangers with 5 hits.
Brandon Dubinsky – Whether it’s because he is trying to prove he is worth the money and the holdout or maybe he is invigorated playing with skilled players like Prospal and Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky is playing like a much different and better player this year. He is not hesitating taking the puck hard to the net. In his first two years in those spots he would have looked to pass the puck off but not now. He is maintaining his aggressiveness while keeping his emotions in check. We’ll see if he can keep up this performance for the entire year but if he does then the Rangers have their #1 Center.
It’s only 5 games into the new season and the memories of last year’s hot start and subsequent disappointing inconsistencies still haunt me. I’m not predicting great things for this incarnation of the New York Rangers but I am very encouraged by what I am seeing. The young players are stepping up and playing well which bodes well for future Rangers’ teams. Gaborik, Kotalik and Prospal are doing what was expected; producing offensively. We’ll see where they are at after 82 games but right now they look darn good.