The New York Rangers’ sizzling start to the year continued Thursday night when the Blueshirts edged the Edmonton Oilers 5-3. Here’s what we learned.
Goals on goals on goals. Can you find any other sequence of five words to describe the New York Rangers’ thrilling commencement to the 2016-17 season?
Through the first 11 games, the Blueshirts have come out firing on all cylinders. They have averaged a jaw-dropping five goals per game (the first New York Rangers team to accomplish this feat through 11 games since 1990-1991), with production coming from top to bottom every night. The Rangers’ speed and crisp puck movement has been absolutely defecating, constantly making the opposition look rattled and out of position.
The theme of unprecedented goal-scoring became alarmingly clear when the Blueshirts pulverized both the Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues by scores of 6-1 and 5-0, respectively. The wins were dominant in every way imaginable, as the Rangers skated brilliantly and received matchless goaltending from Antti Raanta and Henrik Lundqvist.
Alain Vigneault understood that this squad would face another tough test in Connor McDavid and the scorching Edmonton Oilers. With outstanding goaltending in former Ranger Cam Talbot, who had allowed just seven goals in his last six contests entering the game, and a thundering attack, many were uncertain as to how the Blueshirts would fair against a team that would come at them in a similar style in which the Rangers play.
Let’s just say the Rangers passed this test authoritatively.
Despite getting off to a lousy start, the Rangers got their hands dirty, recovering from not one, not two, but three one-goal deficits en route to a 5-3 ousting of the Oilers. Rick Nash’s goal with just 1:21 left in the third and final period was the difference, as Lundqvist stopped 21 shots to preserve the win, extending the Rangers’ winning run to three games.
Here’s what we learned from the gritty triumph.
In every game that the Rangers have played this year, they have had one line that just makes your mouth water. Through the first four games, it was the top line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Pavel Buchnevich (Rick Nash when Buchnevich went down) who controlled the game. The next five it was the trio of Nash, Derek Stepan, and Jimmy Vesey who stepped up big time to dominate the pace of play.
These three guys have formed a perfect combination and have been New York’s most consistent line since Vigneault assembled them. Grabner’s speed, Hayes’ play-making ability, and Miller’s all-around game is what makes this line so good. They move the puck crisply in the offensive zone and they are always around the net looking for leftover scraps to pounce on and put into the back of the net.
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Last night was no exception. Their first goal came on a clever no-look feed from Grabner right in front of the net to set up Hayes from point blank range. The second goal from this line was the result of a brilliant feed from Miller from the side boards to Grabner, who pounded the puck into the net on the second attempt directly in front of Cam Talbot. This line has been phenomenal all over the ice this year and will look to continue to do so on the Rangers’ third line.
Mats Zuccarello also impressed once again. Similar to Hayes, Zuccarello has an incredible sense of where his teammates are on the ice and constantly delivers the puck from tape to tape to his line-mates. At just 5-foot-7, many still question how the 29-year-old still gets it done night in and night out. I guess all we can do is just admire the Norwegian’s fiery heart and astonishing talent.
Rick Nash is also back and it has been so satisfying to watch. He was in the right spot on his game-winning goal last night and has become the difference-maker that everyone knew he could be. He has become increasingly confident and strong on the puck. Watch out for this guy the rest of the year.
Defense and Goaltending
The one defenseman that stood out in a big way last night was 22-year old rookie Brady Skjei.
After an extremely tough camp, Skjei has looked like the player we saw against the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. He moves the puck fluidly up and down the ice and uses his great mobility to join the rush and create chances. He made a great play at the point last night to keep the puck in the zone that resulted in Jesper Fast’s first tally of the season. In his own zone, he had a strong stick and always seems to be in the right position on the ice.
Skjei’s emergence has been vital for the Blueshirts’ blue line success this year. If he can continue to perform at a high level, the Rangers may not need to make a move for another defenseman.
Other than Skjei, I wasn’t thrilled with what the Rangers had to offer defensively. Ryan McDonagh struggled on both ends and his lack of patience resulted in the Oilers’ second goal. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal didn’t do much throughout the game. Nick Holden moved the puck better, but he still wasn’t all that impressive. Kevin Klein was strong at times, but he wasn’t very noticeable on the ice.
Between the pipes, Henrik Lundqvist took a step back from his brilliant performance against the Blues on Tuesday night. Although the first two goals weren’t his fault, he should’ve stopped the third one that went right between his legs on Adam Larsson’s shot from the point. Other than that, he made the saves he was supposed to make, but he wasn’t necessarily sharp. Expect a bounce back performance from Hank on Saturday in Boston.
This was a terrific performance from the Rangers. They showed exceptional resilience in coming back from three leads to win their third straight contest. This team has been fun to watch thus far and will look to continue their electric start when they head to Boston to take on the Bruins on Saturday.