Rangers Vs. Lightning: Continued Improvement, Better Results

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Notes from the Rangers' win over the Lightning.

- That was a game where the New York Rangers best players were, well, their best players. Rick Nash scored a very pretty goal (his first in eight games) off a brilliant feed from Derek Stepan. Henrik Lundqvist, despite giving up three goals, was pretty brilliant in the game. The Rangers also got good defense from Dan Girardi (something of a trend recently) for close to 60 minutes. Those are four players the Rangers have desperately needed to step up recently and they did on Sunday. And, as a result, the Rangers brought home a big 4-3 win.

- It was also a game where the Rangers other best (and more consistent) players were just that. Chris Kreider scored a gorgeous backhand goal off an equally pretty (and so, so smart) feed from Mats Zuccarello. Kreider finished the game with a goal and a couple of quality offensive creations. Zuccarello had a goal and two assists and is now the Rangers leading scorer with 28 points in 39 games. Kreider, by the way, now leads the Rangers with 10 goals.

- Where are all the people who said you can't win with Zuccarello on your third line? There are a lot of them out there. Right now the Rangers are winning with Zuccarello on their top six, which is where he belongs. He's a player.

- Derick Brassard had two assists that directly contributed to huge goals. He's had a hell of a stretch here for the Rangers. A goal and six assists for seven points in his last six games, and now 21 points in 39 games. I think Brassard has been a lot better than his numbers suggested -- especially in the middle 10 games or so in this first half stretch when the Rangers couldn't score a goal to save their lives -- but it's good to see him come on now. The Rangers need him, and I really think he can be a very valuable asset.

- Ryan McDonagh continued to do Ryan McDonagh things. Two assists to up his season-total to 23 points in 40 games. Throw that in with his consistent defense and he should be in the Norris conversation.

- For all the flack Stepan gets for his holdout last year, he sure does do a lot of things people don't seem to notice. Stepan is a very reliable player in his own zone, puts out little fires in the neutral zone (that don't seem like much at the time, even though it might lead to something huge for the other team if he doesn't stop it) and hasn't been as bad offensively as people have said. That assist last night was fantastic, and he created a bunch of other chances, too.

- How many people who are attacking Stepan because of his holdout are the same people who cry about missing Brandon Dubinsky every time the Rangers play the Columbus Blue Jackets?

- And, of course, Benoit Pouliot. I tweeted the following last night:

Is it weird that I love this Pouliot and want him back? Consistency has always been the name of the game with him but this is some stretch.

The past seven games has seen him contribute four goals and three assists. Pouliot now has seven goals on the year (just three behind Kreider for the team lead) and 13 points. And while those numbers don't jump off the page, the past seven games Pouliot's play has jumped off the page. He's scoring from in front of the net, going to the dirty area's of the ice and pushing the temp. I think I kind of like him. Now, as I note above, consistency is the name of the game, but even a 35-40 point Pouliot playing like that more often than not is worth bringing back in my book. At the right price, of course.

- Rough game for John Moore at times. Really rough game for Michael Del Zotto pretty much the whole time. Justin Falk was OK in spurts.

- Conor Allen on the other hand? Very comfortable, took care of his own zone fine (and that's not a bunch of scrubs coming down at him) and joined the rush competently when he had the chance. He also looked really good taking shots from the point. He only played about 16 minutes but was on the ice pretty late in the third (with Falk and Del Zotto sitting) so that says something about him.

- Don't look now, but the Rangers are 3-1 in their last four games and have played four very, very good games. This little stretch might help the Rangers, especially if they can beat the Panther on New Year's Eve and then the depleted Penguins on January 3rd. That would do wonders for this team's confidence, but let's get there before we talk about it.

- Let's hope the team can build on this against the Panthers. The Rangers can use a good stretch of wins.

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