Originally written March 19, 2012 on Blue Seat Blogs:
Two smart periods and one sloppy period equals Rangers win. It wasn’t perfect but the Rangers got what they deserved out of the game as they beat the Devils 4-2. They were the better team throughout and ten minutes aside in the second controlled play, were defensively solid and could have scored more if not for some sharp goaltending by Brodeur. On to the notes from the game… First Period Perhaps they were inevitable, but if ever a series of fights can be a seminal moment for a team then maybe the melee at the start of this game was such a moment for the Rangers. They admitted they didn’t match the Devils the last time out but three fights to kick this game off set the tone of the first period for the Rangers. Rupp and Boulton (who has no right to be in the league), Prust and Janssen and a highly entertaining Bickel and Carter scrap got the game going immediately with the crowd lapping it up. The Rangers dominated to begin. Their physicality, speed, forecheck and desire to win every puck battle was impressive. The Devils were rocked as the Rangers took command; the result of the scraps or sheer desire? The Rangers goal in the first came on a breakdown by the Devils leading to a 4 on 2 which saw Stepan feed Dubinsky who beat Brodeur from between the hash marks. So often the Rangers fail to capitalize on odd man rushes because they overplay it so it was nice to see them convert. The Rangers generated a few additional chances including one which led to a review after Boyle spun out from the corner and his centering feed creating havoc in front. The correct call was made but it was still good play from the Rangers: Boyle putting it on net with other Rangers (Fedotenko) crashing the crease. Huge break for the Rangers midway through as Kovalchuk had a huge chance in front only to be denied by a great poke check by Lundqvist when the puck broke to Parise who ringed one off the post.  Lundqvist deserved the break: he was aggressive on Kovalchuk with his stick yet at the same time, showed patience sliding across goal to follow Kovalchuk’s attempted deke. Biggest concern for the Rangers in the first was on the penalty kill. While it was aggressive in parts, the one player they simply cannot allow to load up and fire away is Kovalchuk. Several times the Russian had clear sights on goal and was only stopped by his (on this occasion) lack of accuracy and a Hank glove; Kovalchuk was given too much space on the PP. Given their recent slump, it was on the whole a fine first for the Rangers. They controlled the period for the most part. Second Period You want a quick start to a period? Dan Girardi scored off a shot from just inside the blue line that deflected in off Brodeur thirty seconds into the second. Pierre McGuire tabbed it as bad luck for Brodeur but he has to get more on that shot; a weak goal for the Devils goalie to give up. Getting defensive: a few minutes in to the second period the Rangers were doing a much better job of collapsing in front and not defending with the stick too much. Also Del Zotto, on a game by game basis, is doing a better job playing the body. You can see his defensive ability (specifically positioning) growing. Five minutes in to the second Elias scored on a wicked shot up high from a tight angle after a Staal giveaway right on the goal line. Staal needs to be much stronger on Sykora in that situation; a bad goal to give up. The Devils goal took away the Rangers’ momentum, who lost control of the game midway in to the second. The Rangers got a powerplay that took the momentum back as Boulton (again) took a stupid penalty (which should have been a major) and the Rangers scored on the ensuing powerplay as Zuccarello converted a bouncing puck in front of Brodeur; Zuccarello’s reward for a great game to that point. Devils scored again as they broke in and Sykora, from a tight angle similar to the Elias tally, also roofed one stick side on Lundqvist. A quality heads up play by Kovalchuk to get the puck over to Sykora but Lundqvist has to be better. The Rangers had four men back on the play so the back checking wasn’t at fault.
  • Rangers Good: Zuccarello (hustle), Mitchell (all effort) and Callahan.
  • Rangers Bad: Staal (ugh), Lundqvist (should be better for the Devils second goal).
The Rangers were sloppy in the second half of the middle period. A few turnovers and allowed the game to be a little too open, they didn’t play smart with their lead. Luckily they killed off a questionable boarding call on Dubinsky late in the period. The second period was more even with the Rangers careless at times not to mention still not playing close enough to Kovalchuk throughout. If you allow the Russian time and space he’ll eventually bag one. Earlier in the year McDonagh showed how you play the winger: up in his face, removing his time on the puck. Rangers best line after two: Boyle – Mitchell – Zuccarello. The little Norwegian was busy throughout and changed the dynamic of the line. The line created, worked hard and the Devils struggled to contain them. Third Period The Rangers had a couple of opportunities early in the third off turnovers but they were careless with their shot selection and failed to have anything to show for the multiple errors by the Devils in their own zone. In the third period the Rangers were much better in the middle of the ice, causing turnovers by taking away the space for the Devils to pass and skate through. Defensively the Rangers were much tighter than in the latter stages of the second. The back checking was better and (Staal aside) the team were quick to clear the zone, even if it meant an icing. Great penalty kill from the Rangers in the third  showed that they clearly adjusted to Kovalchuk who had much less space to use his shot and subsequently turned over the puck a few times trying to do so. The hit on Prust that had the Garden up in arms late on was a fair hit that simply ended awkwardly. Dare I say it but Pierre McGuire was right: “Not every hit is a penalty”. Rangers had a couple of great chances on breakaways late in the third but were denied by desperate goaltending by Brodeur. More importantly however, was how the Rangers were generating chances through winning battles along the boards allowing for quick breakouts. Brian Boyle – who had a solid game – had a great chance with five to go after a nice feed from Mitchell but couldn’t solve Brodeur. Despite not scoring it was more quality play from what was the Rangers best line all night. One concern could be the Marc Staal situation. All night long he was not clearing the puck quickly enough as evidenced by a couple of plays that lead to sustained pressure by the Devils. Regression? Thanks to a high sticking penalty the Rangers got their fourth goal, although it came just after the penalty had expired. Once again, simple hockey formula: put the puck on net, create traffic in front and you will be rewarded. Dubinsky (who had one of his better games) threw it on net as Stepan was heading toward goal and who got a deflection past Brodeur. Random Thoughts:
  • Henrik Lundqvist was solid but would like the Devils’ second goal back.
  • Brandon Dubinsky had a fine game. He looked to shoot more tonight which usually bodes well for his game.
  • Gaborik had his quietest game for a while but still looked dangerous in spots.
  • On the whole, I had no great issue with the refereeing in this game (for once).
  • Has Zuccarello made it impossible to take him out of the line-up for the remainder of the regular season? Yes.
Three Stars
  • Mats Zuccarello – makes things happen
  • Ryan Callahan – his best all round game in a few weeks.
  • Derek Stepan – got better as the game progressed.
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