Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gaborik, Rangers put six on Islanders in early St. Patty's Delight

Call it an early St. Patty's delight. As I erred repeatedly on thinking the fun Irish holiday was yesterday instead of tomorrow (March 17-duh), well the Rangers were ready to get the party started by crushing the Islanders 6-3 for their second straight win at the chaotic World's Most $hameless State Of The Art Arena. Al Rotwig sucks. I digress. :P

Another game they had to win due to Hasan's Devils latest improbable 'W,' which sounds even wackier than we perceived over at 33rd and Seventh. While they cameback from two to prevail over Atlanta, the Rangers took care of business against the pain in the ass Long Island rival in what amounted to an exciting night. Yes, John Tortorella isn't wrong that they got into too much of a run 'n gun with a dangerous opponent who can pick you apart. From that standpoint, I appreciated his Jacques Lemaire-esque warning about the team needing to be more defensive oriented in the final 11 games. The offense was a welcome sight with Marian Gaborik once again beating up his favorite opponent. The Great Gabby reemerged with two power play goals, making him the fourth Ranger to reach 20 this season. All the more amazing since leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky has disappeared.

It was a big win,” Gaborik said. “We had a tough couple of games on the West Coast so it was nice to come back and score a couple of goals on home ice.”
When you look at our point leader who hasn't hit 50 yet after looking like a lock for 60, it's amazing this team finds itself in an enviable position- two points up on Buffalo for seventh after Cam Ward (40 saves) closed the door in a 1-0 blanking that put the Canes just two back of eighth. The one thing about the Blueshirts is they do it by committee with Gaborik, Dubinsky and Brian Boyle each having 20 goals while new leader Ryan Callahan notched the all important 21st that stemmed the tide after they blew a 2-0 lead. If you count Derek Stepan (18) and Artem Anisimov (16), it's possible we could have half a dozen reach 20 by season's end.

Most impressive was the continued positive play from Erik Christensen, who scored for a second consecutive game and also set up another- giving him five points (3-2-5 in 5 GP) for the month. In fact, if you go back to a 6-0 rout of the Caps in which Christy had a two goal, two assist effort, that's five goals and four helpers including three power play goals along with a plus-six rating during a seven-game span. It speaks to the streakiness of a gifted player who if he showed any consistency, would be a steal. They'll certainly take what they're getting lately as the games become more crucial down the stretch. Christensen is one of eight Rangers with at least 10 goals, which brings me to fan favorite Brandon Prust, who did it again last night. Prusty has been the epitome of this hard working group. A heart and soul guy who never asks out even if he's nicked up like yesterday.

There was our No.8 following up Ryan McDonagh's rush for a huge shorthanded goal to steer his team in front. Nearly half his 11 markers have come while shorthanded. Not bad for a guy who was viewed as a throw in last year with Olli Jokinen in the Ales Kotalik salary dump. Sometimes, it takes a guy a couple of organizations to really get a fair shake. With Phoenix and Calgary, Prust was known as an enforcer who would go with anyone. A winning characteristic we still get to see. Only now, he picks his spots because he has a larger role, playing alongside running mate Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko on the checking line while also leading the penalty kill. Who knew? Off a nice follow up on a sliding Al Montoya, Prust notched his team-leading fifth shorthanded goal. He is tied for the league lead with Islander Frans Nielsen. Not bad for a guy who always gives an honest effort.

Even though I didn't vote for him for the Steven McDonald Extra Efford Award, it was between Prust and the guy I chose, Boyle as both exemplify what this team is all about. When Callahan went down, the dynamic duo stepped up. Who ever would've thought one would have 20 goals while the other 11. Their season totals are very similar with Boyle tallying 32 points (20-12-32) and Prust notching 25 (11-14-25)- each posting career highs across the board while being the ultimate Rangers. Where would they be without them?

Montoya got a rude welcome by the team that drafted him first round. He was chased before two periods were complete, having allowed five goals on 36 shots. Unfortunately, his team hung him out to dry, getting whistled for several penalties which allowed our power play that scored three times (Irish luck). Al was peppered. Already ahead by one, Christensen took a nice Mats Zuccarello feed and blasted one high stickside for his 11th. Dan Girardi also got an assist. By the end of one, our team had 21 shots. So, Montoya did his best to keep the Islanders in. When Matt Moulson (30th) and P.A. Parenteau (17th) scored 2:29 apart off nice set ups from John Tavares, it could've got ugly. Instead, Henrik Lundqvist responded with some timely stops before Callahan had an easy tap-in courtesy of a beautiful Anisimov backhand pass behind Montoya for No.21. The future captain is one shy of matching his career high established the last time we made the playoffs ('08-09). Callahan is 21-21-42 in only 51 games with nine PPG, two shorties and four game-winners. The two-time Extra Effort recipient is what a Ranger should be.

Following Cally's tally, the Islanders fell apart literally. A penalty fest allowed our team to increase the margin to 5-2. First, Gaborik atoned for an easy miss by taking a Bryan McCabe feed and streaking up ice for a halitzer Montoya had no chance on. Then on a five-on-three, it was the original Islander who got into the act with his first as a Ranger- blasting one through a Callahan screen that ended Montoya's night. Both Callahan and Vinny Prospal drew assists. The play of Prospal can't be understated. In what's been a trying year which could be his last due to his knees, the alternate captain has shown a lot of heart coming back to try to get our team in. His assist gave him points in seven straight (1-7-8). Over the last 10, Mr. Sunshine has two goals and nine helpers along with a plus-four rating. Prospal makes a difference. Gaborik and Christensen are more comfortable.

We were just getting pucks through,” McCabe said of a power play that's now victimized the Islanders nine times. “Traffic is the key to success.”

It was against my former team that I started with,” he noted of the goal. “It was nice to get a win here.”
With Stepan's line struggling lately, Tortorella reinserted Sean Avery for Wojtek Wolski, who understood the benching. Unfortunately, Avery was called for three minors with only one questionable. His last came after Gaborik's second, which was off a nifty Christensen feed for another rocket. With the Rangers closing in on an easy win to get back to NHL .500 on home ice (16-16-3), Avery was nabbed for a needless rough. Making it worse, Tavares scored his 26th off it which had the coach fuming. Moulson and Parenteau assisted. Afterwards, when asked about it, Tortorella opted not to discuss it, indicating "That's my business." Uh oh.

Also returning last night was vet Steve Eminger, who gave his usual steady game while paired with McCabe. Eminger knows how to play and did a solid job forcing Tavares wide on one rush where it looked like he had a step. Who knew that he could be such a reliable extra D? To think Slats got him for Aaron Voros, gotta give kudos there. It's not everyday we can praise our GM, who's also made his share of deals that didn't workout (E.G. Korpikoski for Lisin).

What was nice is that the Rangers came home from a split against Anaheim and San Jose and didn't look sluggish. Instead, they were ready from the drop of the puck and when it got a little dicey, responded immediately. They don't play again until Friday against another foe that's given them fits. You know there'll be an infusion of Habs supporters coming in busloads. It's high time our team sends them back to Montreal quiet. If they're serious about making it back, then let's show 'em.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Bryan McCabe, NYR (PPG-1st as a Ranger, assist-1st multi-point game since 12/20 with Fla)
2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (team-leading 21st, assist-5-2-7 in last 2 MSG games-both wins)
1st Star-Marian Gaborik, NYR (2 PPG-19th, 20th-3-1-4 over last 3)

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