NYR 4, ANA 1 - Rangers Outpunched but Land Decisive Blows

NYR 4, ANA 1
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The Rangers spent the first four minutes against Anaheim, who entered the game sitting in second in the Pacific Division with 66 points, pinned in their own zone being outshot 5-0. Despite this, by the 4:01 mark, they had a lead. In the end, they capitalized on their lightning transition game to earn a 4-1 win and make head coach Alain Vigneault the second-fastest to ever reach 600 NHL wins.

“I’m trying to do whatever I can for the team,” was the Oscar Lindberg comment that Joe Micheletti noted during the MSG broadcast and tonight that meant scoring his second of the year to open the scoring.

The willingness to play in any role has earned Lindberg a vote of confidence from Vigneault. It’s also earned him ownership of the fourth-line center role as, with a fully healthy forward group for the first time this year, Brandon Pirri remained a healthy scratch. Any offensive juice from Lindberg, who is defense-first but also made a nice play to set up a Grabner chance that resulted in a power play minutes after the goal, makes the Rangers’ depth that much scarier.

Outside of the goal, the first period was a contest featuring a contrast in styles between two of the NHL’s elite punchers. While Anaheim employed a heavyweight, Holyfield-esque barrage to the tune of a 16-6 shot advantage, New York responded with an ultrafast counter-punching game mimicking Mayweather. But unlike the Ducks, who had high shot totals but few quality chances, the Blueshirts were able to land the first major blow and generate a handful of prime chances in transition.

It was more of the same in the second period, as the Rangers were largely pinned in their own zone but managed a number of good opportunities in the transition game. That included Mats Zuccarello’s goal to give New York a two-goal lead, as the Ducks never gained defensive structure. If not for smoking-hot goalie John Gibson making a couple of brilliant saves, including the Grabner breakaway and a Jimmy Vesey (get the puck off your stick, rook!) net-front chance, the game might have been over.

Instead, after Skjei struggled to control a puck behind his own net, NHL Ironman Andrew Cogliano found a loose puck and delivered a pass to a wide open Jacob Silfverberg to cut the lead in half. The remainder of the period was owned by the Ducks but Hank and a strong penalty kill held the lead.

In the third, a period in which the Rangers lead the league in goals (70) and the Ducks have given up the fewest (33), Michael Grabner scored twice and Henrik shut the door to complete the 4-1 win.

Henrik was outstanding tonight, particularly in the second half of the second period but, despite being outshot badly, the Rangers were not awful defensively. Reminiscent of the Torts-era Blueshirts, they looked comfortable playing in their own zone and defended well in front of their own net. So, while the analytics are ugly (Anaheim owned a 44-20 shot advantage), the defensive play was solid. Consequently, Hank didn’t have to deal with the bounces off of defenders and rebound chances that he did against Calgary. He stonewalled everything else, including a handful of grade-A chances, and has won six of his last eight starts with a .953 SV% and a goals against average below 2.00.

“The way they battled in front to help me there was key for me,” Lundqvist said about the defense in front of him after the game.

It’s too bad that Sami Vatanen was out tonight, as he could be a trade target for the Rangers if Anaheim decides that they can move on from him (wishful thinking?). But, boy, Brandon Montour looked outstanding for his seventh NHL game. He was active in the offensive zone and can really shoot the puck. He also made a nice play using his speed to defend Grabner who was looking for a shorthanded breakaway. As a righty, he might make Vatanen expendable.

Sometimes in sports, hockey especially, you have to tip your cap to good sportsmanship. We saw it twice tonight; Cogliano apologized for tripping Hank and Ryan Getzlaf pulled Stepan away from the fracas after he went down on a nasty hit from behind into the boards in which no penalty was called. Anaheim is generally a likable team (perhaps that’s just Kariya/Selanne residual), but those were both nice moments that are too fleeting in today’s NHL.

Overall, the takeaway for the Rangers tonight will be the compete level and focus they displayed. They won puck battles, were decisive with the puck, and defended the front of their own net very well. While they’ll need better possession numbers for long-term success, they should strive to maintain that mentality.

The Rangers look to continue their winning ways/rebound against the Predators (58 points) on Thursday at The Garden.

Notes: Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller have four-game point streaks; Zuccarello has three goals in six games; Brady Skjei had two assists; Grabner has ten goals in the last 13 games; the Rangers were four-for-four on the penalty kill; Dan Girardi played a rugged game, going down twice after blocked shots and earning the Broadway Hat; Lundqvist had season highs in both shots against (44) and saves (43); J.T. Miller assisted on both Grabner goals and has 20 points in last 16 games with three-straight games of two assists; and the Rangers celebrated #HockeyIsForEveryone tonight with rainbow-taped warm-up sticks and a nice tribute to Willie O’Ree.

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