At the rate the Rangers beat is going, the Blueshirts figure to advance from “Among The NHL Elite” level to being THE elite team in the 30-club circuit.
Completing their Western Canadian three-win hat trick by overwhelming the Canucks, 7-2, in Vancouver, the Blueshirts return East for a test in Columbus on Friday before homecoming night against the Panthers on Sunday.
No matter who coach Alain Vigneault starts in goal nor how he juggles his lines, it’s a good bet that the Rangers will conquer the foe. And their record (13-4-0) underlines that point.
OVERVIEW: This destruction of the Canucks was payback for the Rangers last loss — in The Garden — but demonstrates how all New York cylinders are working. It started in goal with Henrik Lundqvist at his very best when he had to be; especially in the first period. Then it moves on to a solid and productive defense — even a goal by newcomer Nick Holden. And, once again, all lines were in high gear.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
- GRIT PLUS: For starters, the Rangers battled for 60 minutes. They may not have been artistically perfect, but they never relinquished the fighting spirit. Grit and desire blended for the win.
- THE KING REIGNED: Lundqvist was in game-stealing mode at the start, enabling him — and his team — to outlast Jacob Markstrom at the other end. This could qualify as His Majesty’s best game of the campaign so far.
- TEAMWORK: After Kevin Hayes passed up a hat trick possibility, the unselfish move inspired MSG Network’s Joe Micheletti to opine: “This is a close-knit group who think only about the team and nothing individual.”
- OFFENSE-DEFENSE: The outpouring of goals — J.T. Miller (2), Hayes (2), Brandon Pirri, Mats Zuccarello and Holden — is part of the pattern, but the forwards also were defensively responsible.
- BALANCE-SPECIAL TEAMS: All four lines were effective, while the penalty killing and power play were efficiently working. The combo emphasizes why the Rangers are so difficult as a foe.
- KILLER INSTINCT: Despite giving up a tough goal late in the second period, which reduced the score to 3-1, the New Yorkers returned for the third period with a vengeance with Hayes and Miller scoring to bury the home club.
- DICTATING FIRST PERIOD: Although the Blueshirts finished the opening period ahead 1-0, the Canucks fired 17 shots at Lundqvist. Had Henny not been at the top of his form, the one goal lead might very well have been a one goal deficit — or more.
- MORE CONSISTENCY, PERIOD-BY-PERIOD: Rather than leaning on The King to steal a period for his mates, it would be more satisfying if the Rangers came out of the gate a lot more effectively than they did in the opening frame.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT SPECIFIC PLAYERS:
- BRANDON PIRRI: This amazing pick-up — or Florida discard, if you will — is so versatile. Against Vancouver, he moved to center and played big minutes. His five goals for the season overshadow his face-off ability.
- MIKA ZIBANEJAD: His scoring is welcome, but even when not lighting the red bulb, Mika makes his presence felt. Once again, he played an all-around game while chipping in a pair of assists. MZ has been A-OK in all three road games.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
J.T. MILLER: “We’re getting every line to chip in which makes us hard to stop. And we’ve been doing it since opening night.”
CONCLUSION AND NEXT GAME: On Friday, the Blueshirts wind up the road trip in Columbus (7 PM, MSG). Ex-Rangers coach John Tortorella has his Blue Jackets playing strong hockey. He’d like nothing better than to sock it to his former outfit. This game will tell a lot about how elite the Rangers are but we do now know that they are ELITE.