A fine week of hockey for the Rangers is in the books after Friday's throttling of the Carolina Hurricanes at MSG. A four goal third period broke open what had been a tightly contested game through two periods and led the Blue Shirts to their sixth straight win. Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky each finished with a goal and an assist for the home team.
Sean Avery got the ball rolling with his first goal of the year in the first period on a breakaway. Jeff Woywitka chipped the puck up the ice and past a Hurricanes defender springing Avery on the break. Avery shielded the puck from another Hurricanes defender befor elevating the puck over Cam Ward's left shoulder. It was a great goal and one that leaves this Rangers fan wondering why we didn't see more of that last year. I mean he had three whole goals on the year while taking 137 shots on goal.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped 34 shots for his sixth win of the year. He lowered his GAA to 2.13 and raised his S% up to 0.933.
Friday's win came on the heels of wins against Ottawa, Winnipeg and Montreal. The Rangers now own the second best record in the Atlantic Division and they are tied for second in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand on Pittsburgh for the top spot.
I won't do a game recap for each of the weeks contests. Instead I'll touch on what is going well and what isn't for the Rangers.
The GAS Line
Torts gets a lot of flak from Rangers fans for constantly shuffling his lines. After spending all summer anxiously awaiting to see the Gabby/Richards duo, Torts split the two high paid stars up. Richards moved down to center a line with Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky while Gabby was paired with young center Derek Stepan. Ultimately Artem Anisimov would join the duo to form what is now being called the GAS line.
Since being joined up in the Montreal game, the trio has combined for six goals (four by Gabby, two by Stepan) and 13 assists. That's after going pointless against Carolina. They were responsible for all three goals in the Rangers 3 - 2 win over Ottawa Wednesday.
He scored his first and the relief he felt was evident with his goal celebration. After putting in a Ryan Callahan shot from the RW into an open net, Dubi looked to the sky and screamed. Hopefully this gets Dubi on a roll in the goal scoring department.
Torts had moved Dubi around the lineup in an attempt to get him going. He was back at center with Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust against Carolina; perhaps in an effort to get him on the ice against the Hurricanes third defense pair more. Torts even made sure he was on the ice late in the Ottawa game with the club holding a slim one-goal cushion and the Sens net empty in an attempt to get Dubi a cheap empty-netter.
Like any team in the NHL the Rangers will need scoring from thoughout the lineup to be successful. If Dubi gets on track to go along with Callahan (7 goals in 15 games) and Richards (12 points) and with the GAS line going well, the Rangers would have two solid scoring lines.
The Rangers still aren't clicking in the PP. Currently the rank 21st in the league in PP efficiency converting on just 14.3% of their opportunities. They did get the game-winner (by Girardi) on the PP Friday thanks to a great feed by Richards.
Worse than the overall conversion rate is that the Blue Shirts only drew four chances on the man-advantage in their last two games. That includes a :27 opportunity against Ottawa. As a team noted for working hard, they have to do a better job than that.
Sean Avery did his best Friday by drawing two calls against the Hurricanes. Segue too.............
He played very well Friday; just the way he needs to in order to be an effective NHL'er. He was moving his feet, agitating without taking stupid penalties and playing with energy. He was even moved up a line to reward him for his effort. That move reinforces my belief that Torts cares about winning and will play the players playing the best. Personal vendettas are cast aside in the interest of winning hockey games.
The defense that is missing their top shutdown defender, Marc Staal, for the entire season to date and another top-four guy, Mike Sauer, for five contests, not only is holding their own defensively, this group is contributing offensively. Last year their defense corps combined for just 27 goals scored. This year they have potted nine already and are on pace to net 49. Any team that struggles to score goals can use offense from wherever they can get it and the Rangers are fortunate to get some from their D.
Now, a couple of other points around the league.
Ryan Miller was angered by Boston's Milan Lucic when the big winger crashed into the Sabres goalie during play the other night. Miller skated a good twenty feet out of his net to play a puck sliding into the Sabres zone and being chased hotly by Lucic. Miller got to the puck first but Lucic did not avoid Miller and cleaned him out.
In an interview after the game, Miller referred to Lucic as "gutless," and a "piece of $hit." Here's my point;Patrick Kaleta is still a member of the Sabres, isn't he? Is there a player in the NHL more gutless than Kaleta? Why is it when he's on your team it's easy to ignore but when he's on another team the guy is a big piece of crap?
Aonther thing: I am tired of the league coddling the goalies. If a netminder wants to come out of the safety of his crease to involve himself in the play, I think he needs to be considered fair game. Too often I see a goaltender go in behind his net with an opposing forechecker skating in hard after the puck (AKA doing his job!) The goalie plays the puck as the forechecker moves to avoid contact. Then the goalie takes a step back toward the goal and collides with the forechecker and the forechecker is whistled for goalie interference.
What? Really!?!? Look, while the guy is in his crease, I get it, you need to protect they guy. If he decides to come out, especially as far as Miller was last night, to play the puck then he should be treated by the referees like any other skater on the ice. I'm not saying the forechecker should look to lower the boom any chance he gets but the rules should apply the same when the guy leaves the crease.
Think back to last years Cup Finals when Tim Thomas was allowed to hook, hold and slash any Canucks player that got near him. I'm not talking about in the crease; I'm talking about any where that Thomas could reach him with his goalie stick. How is that fair when he's also allowed to leave the crease and not be contacted at all without a whistle for goaltender interference?
Also, Friday saw Cam Ward take a few shots at Rangers players he apparently thought got too close to him. He speared Brian Boyle two or three times on the Callahan rebound goal. he also tripped Dubinsky with his stick plain as day just before Dubi netted his goal. Neither time was Ward called for anything.
Goalies are hockey players too and while there job is unique and the should be afforded some protection I think that protection needs to stop where the blue paint does. I also think the referees need to start whistling goalies for tripping or holding or slashing when the commit those infractions. It's getting to the point where the NHL is treating the guys between the posts just like the NFL treats their QB's.