Throughout this roller coaster season, there has been one part of the Rangers' game that has been consistent all year. That is the penalty kill, which is currently ranked ninth in the National Hockey League at 83.8 percent. Heading into the season, many felt that the Blueshirts would be a weak team when defending against the man advantage because of the dismissal of free agents Blair Betts and Fred Sjostrom. While it may not be league leading like last year's was, it sure has been an effective part of this hockey club's game.
Tuesday night on Long Island, the defusing of the Islanders 5 on 3 powerplay was essentially what turned the momentum in favor of the Rangers, helping them to complete the comeback and defeat their rivals 4-3. The key to that specific penalty kill, and most of them anyway, was the players' will to do whatever it took. For example, on the first unit Captain Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky were paired together with Ryan Callahan out thanks to a leg injury. At one point, Drury dove to block a shot and then followed up with a marvelous effort to clear the puck. Right after, it was Dubinsky who was shutting the Isles down as they attempted to make plays in order to get the puck down deep.
Tortorella then put Artem Anisimov out on the ice with Marian Gaborik to finish up the 50 or so seconds that were left on the Islanders man advantage. Anisimov, more than once, gave every ounce of energy he had to stretch and get his stick in the passing lane of the two point men to deflect the puck out of the zone. So you can see that the Rangers are getting an equal effort from the veterans and the youngsters, the first and the second unit, and the forwards and the defense. It is not often that you can combine all of those factors to make up one solid pk. Fortunately, the Blueshirts can.
I remind you that the Rangers were able to do that Tuesday without two of their main special teams guys when it comes to the penalty kill in Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. Both of these players have been instrumental in New York's frequent success while a man down this season. Callahan, along with Drury, was even Team USA's go to player when the opposition had a powerplay in the Vancouver Olympics. Being given that duty, I think, speaks for itself about the kind of player Callahan is, as well as Drury.
Join me after the jump.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist deserves a lot of credit in addition to the forwards listed above. As we have come to know, this team's defensive squad is on the soft side. Because of this, they do not exactly do a great of clearing the crease to give Hank a lane to see shots through. This means that in addition to making the save, Lundqvist has to work to track the puck puck down first, which can be a demanding task when you have a 6-foot-2 hockey player planted five inches in front of your face.
Who knows? Without the great penalty kill, the Rangers may not be in the middle of a playoff race right now, but rather looking forward to the Entry Draft at the end of June. To further prove that point, just look at some of the worst penalty killing units in the league, and then look where they sit in the standings. The Maple Leafs, Stars, Islanders and Oilers are all at the bottom of the list when it comes to penalty kill percentage, as well as in their respective conferences. The only club that doesn't fit in with the rest of the teams with one of the worst penalty kills in the NHL is the Washington Capitals, who are ranked 25th out of 30.
The penalty kill, since the lockout, has become one of the very few trademarks of the New York Rangers' game. They are not known for much, and are not very good at much, but when it comes to killing off a penalty, they are superior. This is a good thing when you have players like Sean Avery, Brandon Prust, and Michal Rozsival, who seem to manage to take a walk to the sin bin at least once per game.