There is nothing like experience. Let's be honest here, there is a reason why at the trading deadline Stanley Cup contending teams give away a kings ransom in picks and prospects for an experienced vet. They do it for the experience. They do it so that in the locker room there is a presence of someone who has been there before, someone who has survived.
But even more important than their locker room presence is what they do on the ice when it matters the most. There is a reason why you would rather have Rob Blake on your blue-line when it's 2-2 in game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals rather than Michael Del Zotto. Blake is well seasoned, he knows the ropes, he knows what to do, he wont panic and he will make the smart play. Experience is everything. When it's there it can win you games, when it's not it can lose you games.
Last night the Rangers showed some prime examples of just how experienced some of them are. There were three instances that stuck out in my head--and if you were lucky enough to get the game on Versus then you would have heard the announcers gush over these moves as well.
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Let's start with John Tortorella. He sat behind his bench and watched his team get blown out of the water in the first minute and a half of the game, concede a goal and then let their goalie get run over at the end of the play. Tortorella called a timeout and leaned into his team. I couldn't read his lips (he was cursing too rapidly) but we all got the gist. "If you don't pick up your mother &^#%#&@* play I am going to bench you so fast that Alexei Yashin is going to come back thinking he missed an Islander reunion with former head coach Steve Stirling." (Let me know if this joke resonates with you, I found it funny) Regardless, the team got the message and picked up their play.
Now you might not consider this a "veteran move" but I do. Imagine if Tom Renney was the head coach. He would have walked up and down the bench, clapped and told his boys to "get back out there and do your job." The Devilswould have scored again and the game would have been over essentially before it started. It is a coaches duty to know his team and react when he has to, Tortorella did that last night; he deserves a fair amount of credit for the win.
The next veteran moves sort of intertwined. When the game was in the dying minutes of the third period and the score was 3-2 the Rangers were tired and they iced the puck. The Devils rushed back to the circle to get the face-off to happen so that the Rangers forwards--who could not change due to the icing--would be tired. Henrik Lundqvist then caught the attention of the linesman and had him fix a strap on his helmet. Shortly after Chris Dury pointed out a flaw in the ice. Both moves bought the Rangers players on the ice about 30 seconds to re-charge, and they were more prepared for the face-off.
No more than a minute later the exact same thing happened. The Rangers iced the puck and they were tired. Again the Devils rushed the puck up the ice to get the face-off to happen and again veterans helped save the day. Vinny Prospal got himself throw out of the face-off circle, and took his time moving to the wing, buying his line-mates a good 10 seconds of time to rest. Prospal did this full well knowing that one of his line-mates was center Brandon Dubinsky, so he would not be putting his team in any worse of a situation to win the face-off. The Rangers won the face-off, they changed cleanly.
It is little moves like that, that separate the great teams from the good teams. It is little moves like that, that teach young kids and rookies great ways to help their teams. Regardless of what you might think Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are still very young and can definitly benefit from the veterans experience. I think that it is relatively self explanatory that Michael Del Zotto, Matt Gilroy and Artem Anisimovcan also benefit from this teams veteran experience.
Although it is only the third game of the regular season it is awesome to see the Rangers veterans already making smart plays like these. There were many times that the Rangers could have blown this game--arguably the most dangerous coming in those defensive zone face-offs the icings created in the third--but veteran leadership help steer the Rangers into safer water.
Chris Drury, Ales Kotalik, Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal and Wade Redden are all veterans who are not "home grown talent" but have gone through the hell that is the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is nice to see them rubbing off on the "home grown talent," it is also nice to see them win the Rangers some hockey games. Here is to much, much more of that!