Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 11/26/11

If today’s game was any indication of what the 2012 NHL Winter Classic will be like on January 2, then the fans are going to be very happy with what they see….. Ranger fans, that is. And rightfully so, because the Blueshirts came out today and put together a beautiful 60-minute performance less than 24 hours after defeating the Washington Capitals, 6-3, to complete the perfect weekend of back-to-back wins. It's been quite the past two days for John Tortorella’s squad.

The first period of this game was as exciting as a hockey game can get, and it all started just four seconds into regulation with Brandon Prust and Zac Rinaldo dropping the gloves to set the mood for this afternoon’s matinee at Madison Square Garden. The crowd was into it, both benches were standing and the two teams quickly reminded us what this rivalry is all about. That would be the first of two fights in the period for Prust, but the second was with Wayne Simmonds, who was itching to go with someone from the start of the game.

With all of the rough stuff out of the way, the Rangers and Flyers got to playing hockey in the second period, and within the first minute of the middle stanza, the Rangers had scored back-to-back goals. The first, however, did not count as Ryan Callahan swept the puck to the back of the net using his glove. Just seconds after, though, Brad Richards’ fired a one-timer past Sergei Bobrovsky on the powerplay to officially give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the game. Callahan would not get an assist on the goal but he did an excellent job of setting a screen at the top of the crease.

From that point on, the Blueshirts played some sound defense in the second period and didn’t allow the Flyers to generate much offense at all. As the MSG Network broadcast showed, the Rangers were quick to pressure the Flyers’ puck carrier, which forced turnovers and dump-ins that New York was able to turn the other way into offensive chances of their own.

Notice how the Rangers changed their defensive strategy from one day to the next having to go against very different opponents. With the Capitals, the Blueshirts had to take more of a man-on-man approach in which they forced Washington to the outside. Against teams with speed like the Caps, that’s your best bet at shutting them down. But with the Flyers – a team that likes to make pretty passing plays – pressuring the puck carrier with several players disrupts their flow and cuts off outlets.

You see, John Tortorella is a smarter coach than many of you think.

At 5:06 of the third period, Carl Hagelin cashed in on his own rebound to register his first NHL goal and give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. This kid has really opened eyes in just two games played so far; he picked up the assist against Washington yesterday and now today scores not only his first goal, but his first goal by swatting a rebound out of mid-air and into the net. Hagelin is something special, I’ll tell you that much.

That wasn’t the last we’d see of Hagelin, either. The coach put him, along with fellow call-up John Mitchell, out in the final 30 seconds of the game to finish out the win for the Rangers. I don’t know about you, but seeing that, I think Hagelin has to be feeling pretty good about himself if the coach has that much trust in him just two games into his NHL career.

Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist was a perfect 29 for 29 this afternoon, and captured his second shutout of the season. Considering the opponent, it was a fairly easy shutout for Hank to get, because you often don’t expect to face such little pressure when going up against the Philadelphia Flyers, but that was the case today. 

Of course, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and the rest of the crew played very well on defense in this game, but I actually think the best defensemen for the Rangers today were their second line of Ruslan Fedotenko, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Give Richards credit, because he had the task of shadowing Claude Giroux as the opposing centerman today, and he did a hell of a job. Plus he scored the first goal as well, so a great game for Richie all around.

Today’s game marked the quarter mark of the season for the Rangers, and in 20 games played, a 12-5-3 record for the season is pretty damn good. You look at the past two wins against the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers, and you can’t help but to think the Rangers can play with anyone. Those are two of the powerhouses in the Eastern Conference and the Rangers manhandled both of them.

But I guess the ultimate test will come on Tuesday when they faceoff with the league-leading Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this year.

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