Originally written December 31, 2011 on Blue Seat Blogs:
In a game that could have been easily overlooked in the wake of the Winter Classic on Monday, the Rangers took it to the Panthers 4-1 in their final tune-up before heading to Philly.  After a rocky outing against the Caps, the Rangers bounced back and played a very smart game and grabbed a little momentum to take to Citizens Bank Park.  Onto the bullets…
  • The name of the game tonight for New York was the executing the little things.  For the most part, they got the puck deep, threw pucks at the net and created havoc in the offensive zone.  Defensively, they used the boards well, blocked shots and didn’t give allow the forecheck to lure the play into the middle of the ice.
  • Scott Clemmensen had a rough game tonight, but the Rangers’ goals weren’t of the soft variety.  They made quite a few great first passes out of the defensive zone that lead to quality offensive chances.  Jose Theodore played much better in relief, but at that point the game was pretty well in hand.
  • Another solid defensive showing for this overachieving blue line.   The defense did a great job keeping pucks to the outside and although Hank was somewhat busy, most of the shots came from bad angles. Stralman in particular had a strong game, and although Stu Bickel has been a bit of a punching bag since his call up, he has played incredibly smart, simple defense.  McDonagh does look a bit tired to me, but continues to play well.  If Staal can come back at some point in the near future, McD can get his minutes back to a reasonable level and should be better rested for the stretch run this season.
  • For all the (deserved) praise the GAS line has gotten so far this season, the newly formed Hagelin-Richards-Callahan trio has been just as impressive.  They were the best line on the ice tonight and have been getting better with each game.  Hagelin has a tremendous hockey IQ and his speed has been a weapon since day 1.  Each one of these guys has a completely different skill set, but they play off each other incredibly well.
  • Continuing the theme, Michael Del Zotto is probably playing the best stretch of hockey I’ve ever seen out of him.  He is making the simple plays and not overextending himself.  He is playing physical and jumping into the offense at the correct times/places.   His continued development will be huge going forward and he is clearly playing with a lot of confidence and Torts is rewarding him with ice time in a variety of situations.
  • Brandon Dubinsky quietly has 5 points in his past 5 games.  I’m not sure I’m completely sold that he has fully turned his season around, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.  His goal tonight was a fantastic individual effort.
  • Nice to see Richards play a solid game after a couple of rough outings.
  • Henrik Lundqvist.  Best goalie on the planet.
  • I’m not sure what was more entertaining to me tonight; the Panthers growl or Tort’s tie (it looked like an early 80’s couch).
After months of anticipation, HBO cameras and uniform drama, the Winter Classic is finally here.  Hopefully the Rangers can stay focused and play their game.  Wouldn’t we all love to see Glen Sather’s press-conference declaration become a reality?
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