Rangers Find Winning Blueprint
On Thursday night the Rangers put forth the type of effort they'll need more of in order to remain in contention until the return of several key players. The Blue Shirts avenged an earlier OT loss to the Maple Leafs with a solid effort in downing Toronto 2 - 1.
New York showed a better commitment to team defense and blocked 30 Leaf shots. They were led by Michael Del Zotto (7), Marc Staal (6) and Dan Girardi (5). The Rangers also did a terrific job of stepping up in the neutral zone and not allowing the Leafs to gain entry into Blue Shirts territory with speed. That was a huge problem the first time these clubs met up.
The Rangers dominated the first period outshooting the Leafs 15 to 8 and leading the game 2 - 0 after the first 20 minutes. Ruslan Fedotenko got his first of the season and first as a Ranger by tapping in a loose puck on the goal line. Derek Stepan carried the puck in on the RW then threw the puck to the net. Leafs netminder Jonas Gustavsson stopped the puck but couldn't cover it up. Sean Avery and Feds crashed the net but Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf didn't lock Feds up and he cashed in.
The Blue Shirts upped their lead to 2 - 0 just 1:01 later on a beautiful cross-ice pass from Michael Rozsival to Artem Anisimov. It was Anisimov's 2nd of the season and the young center looks far more comfortable playing on a scoring line this year.
The Leafs came out strong in the 2nd period but Martin Biron, making his Rangers debut, was equal to the task. He stopped all 11 Toronto shots in the 2nd period and appeared en route to a shutout until Colby Armstrong cashed in on a rebound of Clarke MacArthur's shot just over half-way through the 3rd.
The Leafs would get a few more chances down the stretch including a Kris Versteeg breakaway opportunity but Biron closed out strong.
The Leafs have now dropped 2 straight after a 4 - 0 start. Toronto's strong start can be credited at least in part to a much improved penalty kill and overall defensive play. After finishing dead last on the PK the previous two seasons, the Leafs have killed off nearly 90% of the power plays against. They'd also limited opponents to just 23 shots per game heading into Thursday's contest.
The Leafs PK unit was successful killing off both Ranger man-advantages. The Rangers did however become the first opponent to record 30 or more shots against Toronto in getting 32 on Gustavsson.
With Gaborik and Vinny Prospal both out due to injury, we knew the Rangers would struggle to get scoring. Getting two early against Toronto was huge. They also played the type of game necessary to stay competitive against more talented teams. They were physical and were solid positionally in their zone.
Biron also gave the Rangers reason to be pleased with their offseason investment in the goalie. Desiring to give Lundqvist more rest while still having a chance to win the games he doesn't play, the Blue Shirts made signing Biron one of their primary missions this summer. So far, so good as he stopped 23 of 24 shots in the win.
Next up for the 2 - 2 - 1 Rangers is a trip to Boston to face the 4 - 1 Bruins. Boston is led by Nathan Horton with 4 goals and 7 points. Tim Thomas is making it difficult for Tuuka Rask to wrest the starting gig away. Nonetheless, it looks as if Rask will get the start tonight.
Off the Rangers for a second, the NHL suspended Vancouver forward Rick Rypien 6 games for shoving a fan in the stands at a recent game between the Canucks and Minnesota Wild.
Rypien was on his way to the Canuck dressing room after being assessed a double minor for roughing and a 10 minute misconduct penalty. On his way he lashed out at the Wild fan who was applauding. It wasn't clear from the replay whether the fan said anything directed to Rypien.
The NHL can't tolerate players reacting to fans like that. This isn't the 1970's where brawls between the fans in the stands and the players happened on occasion. Fans pay big bucks to attend games and have a right to cheer for their teams. Nothing this fan could have said could justify Rypien's reaction. I don't care if he was mad at a Wild player, the refs his coach or whatever; he has no right to take it out on a fan.
To me, 6 games wasn't enough. I know Rypien is a tough customer on the ice but apart from that I am not too familiar with him. However, this event is troubling as it points to the possibility he has difficulty controlling his anger. Fortunately he didn't strike out at the fan as much as grab at him but still this act probably deserved a suspension of at least 10 games and perhaps up to 20.
Hopefully he takes some time to think about while he sits for the Canucks next 6 games. I also hope he reaches out to the fan he accosted. An apology is warranted here. Perhaps he already has and I just haven't heard about it. I sincerely hope so.
Another note, I will be hosting a live, in-game blog tomorrow as the New York Rangers return home to take on the New Jersey Devils. Please join me in making this the most successful of The Checking Line's live blogs. Because we all know Rangers fans are the best but here's a chance to prove it. Wink, wink.