Saturday, February 26, 2011

Red Carpet Performance by Defense Sparks Another Shutout of Caps | NYR 6 WAS 0

The adjectives start to run out. Resilient, gritty, hard-working, gutsy. The Rangers lose their top offensive threat yet again.

Then they lose one of their star defensemen. They continue to have difficult not only scoring generally but scoring first.

They arrive in the Nation's capital to play one of the East's top teams just back from a lengthy and successful road trip. An opponent, by the way, that is looking for revenge after being embarrassed at MSG 7-0 and thwarted at home before a national t.v. audience and also looking to re-establish their home ice dominance.

Yet, once again, showing a cohesiveness and courage that was never associated with recent teams, the Rangers banded together to inflict a 6-0 drubbing on the Washington Capitals. The Rangers have won 2 in a row against Southeast teams, both on the road. Henrik Lundqvist (25-20-4) benefited from the Rangers' sterling play while Michael Neuvirth (18-10-4) took the loss for the Caps. Official recap is here.

Band of D-Men. The defense did what
was needed to frustrate the Capitals.

One thing the Rangers have demonstrated is that someone will appear to lead the team offensively on many a night. In Raleigh on Thursday, Wotjek Wolski carried the Rangers with his late tying goal and shooutout winner. In D.C., it Eric Christensen with 4 points.

In assessing a thorough team performance like last night's, awarding the usual top 3 stars is insufficient. Since we are in Oscar season, something a little more substantial is in order and we need to think bigger.

The Award for taking the heart out of a team and crowd should go the defense -- helping to pitch a shutout, scoring a goal and adding 3 assists, often giving a clinic on clearing pucks out of the zone and playing smart positional hockey. And yes, covering up for more of Michael Del Zotto mistakes.

Another Award for exasperating the fan base should go to Henrik Lundqvist who made several sparkling saves early on, kept his composure even when under attack, and earning his league-leading 8th shutout of the season. He deserved to be the beneficiary in a game where the Rangers kept piling on goals.

Seeing is believing. Anyone have an idea back in October that any of these
4 players would be on the ice together to congratulate Henrik for a victory?

Finally, another Award for best performance by a below the radar player should go to the player who stepped in to fill the gaps left behind in scoring by Gaborik, Dubinsky and Boyle -- tonight it was Erik Christensen with 2 goals and 2 assists.

#1 Star -- Eric Christensen. Often maligned but the
key to at least 5 Ranger victories this season.

Eric Christensen may have had the offensive game of his career with 2 goals and 2 assists including a beautiful conversion of a Michael Sauer pass in the first period and a terrific backhanded pass to Brian Boyle for the 6th goal of in the game's final minute.

Meanwhile, the formerly glamorous Capital offense suffered its 9th shutout of the season (the Rangers have been shut out 4 times).

The Capital power play continued its season-long woes at home, going 0 for 5, and scoring fewer than 1/2 of the power play goals it did last season.

An Early Spring -- An Even Earlier Choking Feeling? When the
playoffs come, the Caps may not have to worry about the Pens,
but the Flyers, Lightning and Bruins will be formidable.

Nothing epitomizes the Caps' futility more than Ovechkin only scoring 6 points in his last 15 home games. Meanwhile, on the road, he has 18 points in his last 16 road contests.

Even more interesting, Ovechkin had not scored a point in his prior 3 home games against the Rangers. That streak has been extended to 4.

Nothing Doing for $100, Alex. You don't need Watson to know what the
"O" in Ovechkin stands for when he has faced the Rangers this season.

So, when the Rangers played Washington last night, they had the Caps mediocre home record on their side and the tendency of teams returning from long road trips to come out flat. True to form, the Capitals played right into the Rangers' hands.

With last night's win, the Rangers took the season series 3 games to 1. They outscored the Caps by 14-1 over the final 3 games (185 minutes of play).

Just when I thought after the pitiful performances against New Jersey and Philly, I could safely put away my credit card for playoff tickets, the Rangers have won 2 tough games in a row and solidified their 7th place standing and have even drawn to within a hair's width of Montreal and Washington.

Now, Tampa Bay visits the Garden on Sunday afternoon -- the #2 seed in the East. Then Tuesday brings my least favorite NY team -- the Buffalo Sabres and then Thursday the Minnesota Wild (a strong playoff contender in the West) finishes the upcoming 3 game homestand.

Whereas a week ago, a sense of dread was developing after the loss to Philly, now a renewed sense of optimism is starting to appear just like buds on the trees. What the standings will look like a week from now is a mystery that I hope my heart can handle.

-- The Graying Mantis

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