I have three preliminary thoughts on this game and the win over Calgary:
The Party Pooper Analysis: Demanding perfection from Henrik Lundqvist is a Rangers tradition the same way the lighting of the torch is for the Olympics. That said, when it does happen, and the Rangers win, the instant reaction is: “See, even with all the injuries the Rangers are winning! They don’t have to sell!” This is a wrong take.
The Rangers got shelled by Winnipeg, especially in the third. They had a stronger second period, but they were still out-attempted 69-56, lost the expected goals battle 3.36 to 2.49, and managed to score on one of three non-empty net shots in the third period. That’s not the look of a team that was outstanding. Lundqvist made 37 saves, a few of them jaw-dropping. If Hank is even 95% as good as he was, the Rangers probably lose this game 4-1. I get it, be as excited as you want for wins like this (I’ll get to why in a moment) but let’s not pretend this team is anything close to a Stanley Cup contender.
The Jolly Farms Analysis: The Rangers have had more heart and compete level in these past two games than we’ve seen all year. It’s not a surprise, either. Against the Jets the Rangers iced five regulars for Hartford at one point or another, three of those coming on defense. While there are still the expected lapses, Alain Vigneault can’t bench everyone, so the excitement bleeds through.
If anything, these quick looks have been positive. Tony DeAngelo continues to prove that he should have been in the lineup all along. John Gilmour (who somehow only played 12:45 in Winnipeg) looks like a guy who could actually compete for a bottom-pair spot next year. Neal Pionk hasn’t looked totally out of place, either. Sure, all of this is in context to who and what the Rangers are right now, but still.
The Reality Check: The Rangers aren’t Stanley Cup contenders. These two wins could have easily been two losses. I don’t want to rain on the parade, but long term it’s better for the Rangers to be losing these games than winning them. That said, you can see how much the kids in the room care, and how much the veterans (mainly Lundqvist, Mats Zuccarello, and Mika Zibanejad) care about these wins. They don’t want to say die, and that’s great, but two energetic wins don’t change that this team is and isn’t. Sorry.
- Here’s the thing: Rick Nash has been a monster the past three weeks, but especially since it was released the Rangers were full-time selling. That’s nothing but a good thing, as his value continues to skyrocket. Same goes for Michael Grabner, who maybe isn’t as capable of taking over a game as Nash is, but who continues to score goals and show off why he would be a valuable asset. Even if the Rangers only move Nash, Grabner, and Nick Holden, I think there’s a sizable return there. Add in the potential not-really-on-the-block-but-come-talk-to-me youngsters, and it could get crazy.
- I find it hard to judge a game like this. On paper it looks like the Rangers played a solid enough game, but that’s not really what I saw. The defensive breakdowns are excusable (half the defense is Hartford and that doesn’t even include Steven Kampfer). Kampfer played the second-most minutes on defense, and was out there in the final two to close down the lead. The forwards generated close to nothing the first and final 20 minutes of the game, and down the stretch they did two good things that both happened to result in goals. Yes, it’s a great win in a tough barn, but the Rangers got bailed out by Hank a lot. And this is another one of those games where people will forget how much Hank did.
- The power play had a few moments of competence, and have even with the changes. Oh they miss Pavel Buchnevich and Kevin Shattenkirk, but DeAngelo — who even in his struggles earlier in the year ran a strong man advantage — is a nice fit there, and Zibanejad got the memo to shoot everything. The Rangers continue to put men in front of the net (this really isn’t hard) and they create some chances through screens.
- Time On Ice Watch: Brady Skjei played over 25 minutes, with Gilmour trailing the pack at 12:45. At forward, Cody McLoed played 4:11 (John Tortorella style), Vinni Lettier played 9:47 (you’d expect more from him, no?), and Peter Holland played 9:51. From there, Nash led the way with 20:07, with Zuccarello right behind him at 19:17.
- Wins are wins, and like I said, it’s hard to hate the team being so jacked up for one. The Rangers’ schedule is pretty easygoing the next few weeks, so expect the “don’t sell” machine to get louder and louder, but the Rangers know what they’re doing here ... I hope.