Game Fifty-Nine, the Calgary Flames at the New York Rangers
This last stretch of games has aged me at least eight years or so... how are you guys getting through this? I am going to start having to check my beard for grey hairs with all of the leads that the Rangers have been coughing up lately. The Rangers seem to be in a funk where they just make things harder than they have to be and more or less fail to show up for big stretches of recent games. Against the Blue Jackets the Rangers decided to take a nap in the third period and registered just a single shot on net while Columbus tied the game back up in regulation. In overtime the Rangers were the dominant team, handily outshooting the Ohio hockey club and sending the game to the shootout where they eventually won because Rick Nash is an absolute monster.
The Calgary Flames are one of the biggest surprises of the 2014-15 season. They currently have a record of 32-23-4 and are sitting in fourth place in the brutal Pacific Division behind the Los Angeles Kings. Calgary has the tenth most potent offense in the league despite having the twenty-second ranked power play success rate, which should tell us (at first blush at least) that they are a team that wins their games at even strength. Former Anaheim Duck netminder Jonas Hiller has been a big upgrade for the Flames but he is far from being counted among the league's best goaltenders. So, what is it about this team that makes them a winning club? The answer is two veterans and two baby-faced kids.
Mark Giordano and Jiri Hudler have been piling up points for Calgary. In fact, Giordano is tied with Kris Letang of the Penguins for the points lead among blueliners with 47 on the season. 47. Letang has played in five fewer games than Giordano, but Giordano isn't exactly playing with Crosby and Malkin out in Calgary. Hudler has been productive since leaving Detroit for Calgary and simply finds a way to make an impact for his team. Rookies Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have both had strong rookie campaigns. The diminutive Gaudreau has been largely picking up assists for the Flames while Monahan, a center, has already hit the 20 goal mark as a rookie. That isn't a bad little core to build around for the Flames.
This is the last time these two teams will play each other in the regular season this year. The first game was a 5-2 win by the Rangers on December 16th thanks to a two goal game by Rick Nash and a stellar performance by Henrik Lundqvist. Tonight the Flames and Rangers are each looking to claim two points at Madison Square Garden. Maybe tonight we'll see the Rangers play quality hockey throughout the game... or maybe not. Who knows at this point. Just keep picking up points, I guess. Let's do this.
The New York Rangers' February Schedule
2/2 Panthers at the Rangers, 7:00 PM(win.) 2/4 Bruins at the Rangers, 8:00 PM(win.) 2/7 Rangers at the Predators, 3:00 PM(loss.) 2/8 Stars at the Rangers, 5:00 PM(overtime loss.) 2/10 Rangers at the Leafs, 7:30 PM(I guess it was a win) 2/12 Rangers at Avalanche, 9:00 PM(win.) 2/14 Rangers at Coyotes, 8:00 PM(win.) 2/16 Rangers at Islanders, 7:00 PM(Win!) 2/19 Canucks at Rangers, 7:00 PM(overtime loss.) 2/20 Rangers at Sabres, 7:00 PM(win.) 2/22 Blue Jackets at Rangers, 7:30 PM(SO win.)2/24 Flames at Rangers, 7:00 PM
2/26 Coyotes at Rangers, 7:00 PM
2/28 Rangers at Flyers, 8:00 PM
Mike's Player to Watch: Derek Stepan
Marty St. Louis is back to scoring which is great news for Rangers' center Derek Stepan who is often on the ice when the future Hall of Famer is. Stepan, who has been having a productive season in regards to his offense, now has 7 points in his last 5 games and is coming off of a big two point night against the Blue Jackets. With Marty back to his scoring ways, we should expect Stepan and him to start making some more magic happen when they are on the ice together. There are some holes to Stepan's game and still a serious debate about just how good he is or isn't and what kind of money he will be getting in the offseason when he is a restricted free agent. Is he a number one center? Isn't he? It's up to Stepan to finish this season strong and be a catalyst for the Blueshirts' offense the rest of the way to prove that he is worth a big investment, especially with Zuccarello's contract demands coming to light... oh, and he probably needs to find a new shootout move.
Let's go Rangers.