The New York Rangers did not play as well tonight as they have in their previous four wins, but the show put on by their top offensive line was enough to earn them their fifth straight win against the Ottawa Senators at ScotiaBank Place. It's normally not fair to point to just three players as the main reason for a win, but looking at tonight's performance as whole, I think without Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik, this one likely would have been an addition to the loss column for the Blueshirts, ending their streak.
Through the first two periods, the Senators were clearly the better of the two teams out there, getting a majority of the chances and putting the Rangers defense to work. Eventually, after being handed at least three or four odd-man rushes, the Sens capitalized when Milan Michalek lasered a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist from the high slot, giving Ottawa a 1-0 lead in the first half of the second period.
The Rangers came back with two goals of their own, however, and wouldn't you know, the first line happened to score both of them. On the first, Derek Stepan found a wide open Marian Gaborik positioned low in the circle, and Gabby snapped his eighth goal of the season to the back of the net to tie the game at one. Then, about two minutes later, Stepan created another goal with great forechecking pressure around the net, and ultimately buried Artem Anisimov's rebound. New York entered the intermission holding a 2-1 advantage.
At 8:30 of the third period, Anisimov, Stepan and Gaborik were at it again, putting yet another goal on the board to widen the margin to two goals. On this particular play, Anisimov started the rush back in his own zone, Stepan led Gaborik and Marian absolutely unleashed a wicked shot that flew right past Craig Anderson and went top shelf. That shot right there was vintage Gaborik; the Gaborik we saw in his first season as a Ranger in 2009-10.
Nick Foligno would score again for Ottawa a minute later, though, and made it a 3-2 game, bringing some fear into the Rangers since they collapsed on a lead the last time they faced Ottawa back at MSG. This time around, however, the Blueshirts stood tall and found a way to kill off the clock and defend their lead to earn what would be their fifth consecutive win, and the sixth straight in which they've gained at least a point in.
Going back to the first line, before I talk about how well they played tonight, I would just like to officially coin them the "GAS" line from this point on. I received an e-mail from a reader (you probably know him as swedefour in the comments) suggesting this nickname for the Anisimov-Stepan-Gaborik trio, and upon posting on Twitter, I started receiving other suggestions as well. I did the only logical thing and created a poll, and quickly everyone went for the "GAS" line, so that will be the nickname for now on. Even Mike Rupp is using it (link)!
Anyway, the "GAS" line sure was full throttle tonight, as Rupp put it. Their forecheck and puck movement is what makes them so dangerous and with Gabby's lethal shot as the finisher, they are rapidly racking up the points. Now while Gaborik and Stepan will probably get most of the credit tonight, I think Artem Anisimov should get the most because he started all three goals that this line scored tonight. Artie is playing great hockey right now and has been a critical piece to this line's success.
Both Stepan and Anisimov have recorded points in three straight games now, while Gabby has made an appearance on the scoresheet at least once in four consecutive outings. Gaborik, alone, has scored four goals in his last two games, and now leads the entire team in scoring with 15 points. What we are seeing is a healthy Marian Gaborik, which was not the case last season as I suspected often here on the blog. Gabby's tied for fifth place in the league in goals right now, and if you don't think that the Rangers' streak is directly tied to Gabby's consecutive scoring then you are kidding yourself.
As for the rest of the offense, they didn't have too great of a night tonight. Head coach John Tortorella had the bottom three lines all jumbled up by the third period, and the most notable swap was Brandon Dubinsky being moved off the second line and placed on the third. He couldn't find the net tonight, he was guilty of another offensive-zone penalty; things aren't going as Dubinsky wants them to right now, and I think it's starting to get to him. He is still playing well defensively, but at some point not having a goal is going to eat him alive.
The defense had another one of their on and off nights as they allowed too many odd-man rushes and left players unattended to on goals, but at the same time tightened up and gave Henrik Lundqvist the required help when it was needed. And speaking of Hank, another stellar performance from him between the pipes, making 29 saves on 31 shots against. Hank's glove, especially, was on fire tonight.
And lastly, before I wrap this up, I just wanted to give a shoutout to Sean Avery for dropping the gloves with Zenon Konopka tonight. Before the game Konopka had some things to say about Wojtek Wolski's hit on Daniel Alfredsson the last time these teams met, which I was fine with because he was simply stating an opinion. The Rangers, especially the coach, did not take kindly to the comments, though, and Avery was the one to stand up and do something about it - even though it meant fighting someone out of his weight class by a mile. I give him credit for doing that.
The Rangers' next game will be against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Friday, which will be their first match-up with the 'Canes this season. New York currently sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind the first place Pittsburgh Penguins.