"It's only one game..." my Penguin-fan friend says to me during the third period of last night's game against the Blue Jackets. "...and it's the freakin' Blue Jackets!" Guess what, he is 100% right with both those comments. But, what finally gave me the kick in the behind to write this article was watching our Rangers finally put together an effort that needs to be replicated night in and night out for as many minutes per game as humanly possible. The Rangers finally outplayed a team that is one of the more similar teams to them in terms of style of play than most would realize; but more importantly finally gave the Blueshirt faithful a win to forget the past month.
What I saw last night was an underachieving Ranger team breaking out of its shell and get back to the style of play that allowed them to win 7 games in a row earlier in the year. Not to prop myself up, but here is what I wrote back at the start of the season about the style of play necessary for the Rangers to be successful this year:
"Of all the wins the Rangers will accumulate this season, 98 percent of those will come in a full-on team-effort style (the other 2% is Hank, and we all know it). As of today, there are twenty-two men who represent the Rangers as a chain. Each man is a link, and the way this team is built if one player weakens for even a game then the chain might break as a whole."
Now I pose a simple question: Can you (the reader) think of a single Ranger that played poor enough to "break the chain" after coach John Tortorella called the timeout after the second Blue Jacket goal? We could make a slight argument because of the third period about a couple of individuals, but in general I cannot think of anyone. The Rangers took control of the game with their legs and started outworking and outhitting every single player in a white shirt; and that is the simple reason why the Rangers ended up getting the chances they did to win the game.
The Blue Jackets are a young and talented team with one stud in Rick Nash. The Rangers, to be honest, are a mix of young and old with experience before talent with one stud in Marion Gaborik. To start the game last night, the Rangers were trying to do everything perfectly, just like they have been for the past six weeks. They went down two after they got caught puck watching twice, and Torts just told them to sharpen up and keep working. Instead of circling around in their own zone, the Rangers held onto the puck and circled around the visitors which allowed them to get three lines rolling with momentum. They found the lid to the pressure cooker and didn't let it off until the third period, but by then enough damage was done.
In the bigger picture, though, is the fact that the Rangers need to focus on playing their game night in and night out. As much as the Rangers took advantage of the Jackets last night, the style of play that dominated the second period for the Rangers will keep it a close game even if they were to play an All-Star team. The NHL is so parity-filled that with a fringe team like the Rangers it really does come down to how hard and smart they want to work. What I especially liked about tonight was how they went from aimlessly defending to specifically defending the right spots in the D-zone. Both early Columbus goals came from the slot, and I don't think they got a decent chance there again until the third period. On the other end, the Rangers went from trying to force the puck into certain areas of the O-zone to working the puck around the Blue Jackets. Columbus was clogging the middle, a typical strategy for a young team. So what the did the Rangers do? They swung it wide, worked the boards, and tried some bad-angle shots on a good-but-young goaltender that ended up working; simple as that.
That stuff worked tonight, for sure, but that has got to be the starting point every and any night the Rangers take to the ice. The Rangers now go on the road against the Panthers, Lightning, and Penguins. The games against the Panthers and Lightning are perfect games to keep this pace up and go in guns-a-blazin' against the Penguins. Both the Panthers and Lightning are capable opponents that will not easy to play, but that is exactly what this team needs; which is a challenge. They have the feeling of what they have to do now again, and they need to replicate it. Come out flying, put every team on their heels, and create the open ice needed for Gaborik and company to put the pucks in the net; simple as that.