Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rangers 4, Canadiens 3

Yes, yes, and fuck yes! This...this was good news. Now, if you look at nothing but the final results, I can understand why you might think I'm a nutcase. "We played a mediocre, sliding team right near us in the standings, kept giving up the lead, and squeaked by by being good at shootouts" is the type of thing you might say to me, in that situation. That summary sure does make it sound like Old New York Rangers. But, you would be grossly misinformed: the New New York Rangers are winning the battle for the New York Rangers' collective soul (Ohhhhhhhhhhh, heaven let your light shine down).

The Old New York Rangers would have gotten these results by getting a couple of flukey goals from the point or off of weird caroms, giving up the lead on lazy backskating plays, and forcing Lundqvist to bail them out yet again. The New New York Rangers got these results by never relenting, driving hard to the net all the time. Even after giving up three one-goal leads in regulation (and, I guess, two more in the shootout), including the third one on a really "soft goal" (Hank's words, not mine) with 5 minutes left in the game. This team battled hard for every puck and stayed in the Montréal zone for the majority of the game, regardless of circumstance, outshooting them 16-5 in the third (despite a score of 2-2 through that period) after pulling even with them in shots in each of the first two.

Scott "probably shoulda' been the captain, or co-captain with Drury, but they never ask me" Gomez summarized the success for me best: "We didn't lose focus. We took two leads in the third, they came back, and there was no panic. Three minutes left, the coach said, 'Don't sit back, you better go. We're going after this win.' That was the mind-set. Even when they came back, Torts was saying, 'There's no holding back.'"

Bingo. Arguably, this was even better than winning big against a team. Because it showed us that Torts's system is working. Drive hard, all the time. Play defense by playing offense. Don't sit back. You're gonna give up a few odd-man rushes, trust your goalie. And as it turns out, even when your goalie DOES bungle a shot, you fight back anyway. This shootout victory with lots of leads lost wasn't won by our goalie, it was won by an oppressive offense.

As a firm believer in credit where credit is due, I want to show you Larry Brooks's article from today. It hits on almost all of the salient points from this game, including the egregious oversights of Referee Bill McCreary's overseeing.

Finally, the personnel worth mentioning - two up front, two in the back:
Nik Antropov has won me over. I spent a week or whatever talking about how his bigness was so far enough, but he was going to need to be more. In our 4-2 loss to the Flyers on Saturday, you may remember that he opened the scoring by actually out-skating Simon Gagne: moving from behind him all the way to in front of him, with the puck. He's increased from there, and last night he was the powerhouse that Sather clearly wanted us to believe he would be. He was on every puck, and once he has the puck, it is very hard to make him stop having it, what with the built-like-a-Chevy thing. Can he sustain it? It certainly seems to be a period of improvement, rather than a blip. I guess we'll see.
Ryan Callahan was a beast and a half. He made about a million gorgeous moves with the puck, and he got to it by pressing everywhere. If he had half a chance at a puck, he was there trying for it. It's all about winning the little battles for the puck, and he won them.
Dan Girardi is slowly becoming a fantastic defenseman. Putting him on the pair with Staal (I said this in October, I am right about everything) has been the best thing for the kid, and he's had the chance to really start to develop. He made some of the best choices last night that I've ever seen him make. On a defensive squad that most often over the season has begged the reaction "Why was he standing THERE?", Girardi last night kept being exactly where he needed to be. I am excited.
Derek Morris, as the text message I got about him last night put it, is "meh." Mind you, when your "Solid Six" contains Michael Rozsival, "meh" isn't so bad. By the end of last night's game, he was starting to make some smart choices, but he certainly hasn't emerged as the defensive leader we handed out 3 starting skaters for. I'm still giving him time. But this was clearly a trade deadline day acquisition, giving up future talent for a present need. We have 11 games left in the regular season. How much more time should I give him?

I don't want to end this on a "meh" note about Morris. The Rangers are playing their best hockey of the season, and as Brooks mentioned, now's a pretty good time for it. The game last night was an important one, not just for the (admittedly huge) two points, but also because it showed me a team that does not get discouraged when it loses the lead - that keeps taking the fight to the opponent until the end. I only saw about 5 minutes of the Old New York Rangers last night, in the first 5 minutes of the game. From there on, the New New York Rangers came through. Remember that "season-defining stretch"? 3-1-0, outscoring our opponents by an aggregate 16-8. I'm not saying I'm confident yet, but you can absolutely move me up to "cautiously optimistic." Let's Go Rangers!

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