Sounds like a great title for a movie doesn’t it? Oh wait, someone has already used it? Darn! Regardless, it is an appropriate title for our King Henrik. Up until last night’s meeting with an improving Kings club, the King hadn’t been asked to win a game virtually all on his own. The Rangers had played their style to a tee and had consistently pressured the opposition into mistakes and had taken advantage of those mistakes. Only for small stretches has Hank been asked to be the King and save the Rangers collective bacon.
Last night, however, was very different. It had always been in the back of my mind that the style of play that the Rangers were employing was not unique to John Tortorella or Manhattan. Other teams could come in with an aggressive fore check and pressure our blue line to the point where they couldn’t execute the “first pass” out of the zone and start our offensive rush. That’s exactly what the Kings did last night.
Look, after years of mediocrity and rebuilding, the Kings look like a playoff team. I picked them to qualify this season in my Western Conference predictions in fact. Ryan Smyth has been stellar and seems to have pushed the ultra-talented Anze Kopitar to the next level of his development. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson are right now what I hope Del Zotto and Gilroy are in another year or two.
The key to the early season success of the Kings has been the solid play of Jonathan Quick in net. He hasn’t been excellent but with the Kings scoring goals for him a solid performance was all that was necessary to propel the Kings to a 4 game winning streak, (coming into last night) following their opening night disaster against Phoenix.
This wasn’t going to be an easy game but the Rangers came out pretty strong in period 1 recording two PP goals in the first period. Vinny Prospal cashed in both, the first of which was his 200th NHL goal. The Kings trailed going into period 2 by a score of 2 – 1.
Brian Boyle kicked off the scoring in the second with a goal, his first as a Ranger, against the team that dealt him this past off-season. That’s when the Kings took control of the game. The Kings dominated the puck and controlled the play for virtually the rest of the game and it was during this time that the King was at his best. New York was out shot for the game 36 – 21 and by an especially wide margin in the 2nd and 3rd periods (24 – 12). Lundqvist was game for every chance in those two periods with the exception of a PPG scored by Michal Handzus in which a shot from the point by Jack Johnson hit Handzus’ body and deflected by the King for a goal.
Lundqvist made several great saves including a point blank opportunity of a rebound chance by Kopitar from about 12 feet out. Marian Gaborik closed out the scoring with a beautiful wrister into the top corner of the net against Kings’ goalie Erik Ersberg (more on that shortly).
All-in-all, the Rangers were not the better team but they were able to dig this one out. That’s great news for Rangers fans; if you can win against a good team when you are not playing your best hockey then that is something to be proud of.
Marian Gaborik - I never saw a lot of Marian Gaborik when he played in Minny. Now that I see him in every game, I’ve concluded that he reminds me so much of Jaromir Jagr; especially in the season right after the lockout in which Jagr set a team record with 54 goals to go along with 123 points.
Every time Gabby has the puck in the offensive zone I think he can score. That is a tremendous threat to have on your side; one that only a few teams can boast. That wrist shot was incredible. He received a pass/clearing attempt from Prospal near the Kings’ blue line and calmly skate into the offensive zone. The Kings d-man (Doughty?) skated over forcing Gaborik to the left wing face-off circle where Gabby let loose of a laser shot to the far corner that beat Ersberg over his shoulder before he could react. I’m not even sure the defenseman realized the shot had been let go until it was already in the net.
The great thing about Gaborik’s performance to date is that all 6 of his goals have come in the third period when they are most needed. He has been absolutely clutch this season. We know that when we need a goal, Gaborik is definitely capable of delivering and that breeds confidence amongst the rest of the players.
Another aspect to like about Gabby is his unselfishness. He had an opportunity to shoot the puck into the empty net late in the game and pad his stats but instead tried a cross-ice feed to Prospal in an attempt to get Prospal the hat-trick. Little things like that go a long way in a dressing room. It would certainly appear as if Gabby and his teammates are having fun and the chemistry seems to be there.
Michael Del Zotto – I keep waiting for the scoring pace to wane some but through 7, the 19 year-old rookie has 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) and is a +2. Those are great numbers for any defensemen at this stage much less a 19 year-old kid. I doubt he can keep up this torrid pace but if he can even crack 50 points this year with a + rating it will be an accomplishment worthy of serious Calder Trophy consideration.
Ales Kotalik – This guy keeps producing points on a highly effective PP (converting at a 26.5% clip in 34 chances) as 6 of his 7 points have been on the PP. I didn’t like the signing when it was announced but Kotalik is doing loads to change my mind. With the play of Del Zotto and Kotalik on the PP points, the Rangers PP looks immensely better than the clueless rabble that the Rangers iced last year.
Protect the goalie please – Over the last two contests, I’ve seen opposing forwards run into (whether intentional or not is irrelevant) Lundqvist with little or no reaction from the Rangers. I don’t expect someone to just start beating an opposing player in this situation but at least get the dude off of our goalie and give him a good shove. Say something! We have to keep the King healthy and in good shape. That won’t happen if he keeps getting run into like that.
Face-offs – Before looking up the numbers, I really expected there to be a larger disparity between face-offs won and lost for the Rangers. It seemed to me as if the Rangers were being beaten consistently and at key times. After a quick review though, it isn’t good but not as bad as I had originally thought. Here is a list of the Rangers 5 face-off guys:
Those numbers, especially Anisimov’s is too low. I may be nitpicking here but I believe that face-off win % is an undervalued stat in the NHL. If Anisimov doesn’t improve then I would suspect Torts would do something different with his line. You can’t have a C taking anywhere from 6 – 12 draws per game when he’s losing 2/3 of them.
After 7 games and a 6 – 1 record about all anyone can do is nitpick. The Rangers have won games a number of different ways. They’ve now won when they were severely outplayed, they’ve won with offense and they’ve won with the King coming to the rescue. All hail the King.