It’s no secret that when the Rangers have had success this season, it’s been built on a four-line attack.
It’s no different now, as they carry a quickly-built two-game winning streak into Thursday’s game against Carolina after beginning a four-game trip with consecutive-night victories over Tampa Bay and Florida.
While Tanner Glass has gotten – and deserved – a ton of attention for his impact in his first two NHL games of the season on the Rangers’ fourth line, the anchor has worked in the middle of that trio.
Sophomore center Oscar Lindberg, whose season started late and slowly after undergoing double hip surgery last May, has found his game in recent weeks.
Lindberg had two assists in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory in Sunrise, and has eight points (four goals, four assists) in his last 15 games, a good number for a fourth-line pivot. Lindberg also won nine of 13 faceoffs (69.2 percent) in that game and has won at least 50 percent in 26 of the last 41 games.
Lindberg’s back-handed shot, off a J.T. Miller pass, caused the rebound on which Glass scored his first goal in more than a year. Lindberg’s curl inside the blue line created space and his pass, while taking a hit, set up Nick Holden’s goal through Glass’s screen in that game.
He also had a highlight move goal, the sweet-handed game-winner, in Boston a week earlier.
“Oscar’s been real strong for us lately,” said Rangers alternate captain Derek Stepan. “I think at the beginning of the year, he was in and out of the lineup and he didn’t really know if he was playing center, playing wing. I think he’s kind of found himself in the center position now and he’s developed into a real role player for us.
“Oscar competes hard every single night and he’s scored some big goals for us, too. That goal in Boston was a big-time goal. And he’s been real strong. He’s going to be huge for us going down the line here.”
About that goal, Lindberg said, “I wasn’t thinking too much. It just kind of happened – a quick play and I got a little lucky that it went in. It’s definitely nice to see that one go in.”
While the “lucky” term is often tossed around by hockey players, you can tell that Lindberg’s confidence and comfort have grown as he’s begun to contribute.
“I think, especially offensively, it’s been better the last 10 games maybe, but I think there’s still things you want to get better at,” Lindberg, 25, said. “The d-zone (play) has been a little up and down the last few games, but I think in general, my game’s been going in the right direction.
“Obviously you want to contribute and help the team with offense as well, and by doing the right stuff defensively you should get your chances offensively, too. I think it’s often when you’re chasing it, that’s when you’re getting scored on and you don’t get all the offensive chances, too. If you’re doing all the right stuff, the offense is going to come to you.”
Lindberg burst into the NHL on an unlikely offensive outburst.
Lindberg won the Lars-Erick Sjoberg Award as the best rookie in training camp last season, then burst out of the gate with four goals in his first three NHL games, and seven goals through 13 games. He then hit the rookie wall and after playing 66 of the first 69 games, he was scratched for 11 of the last 13, plus the first three games of the Rangers five-game playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
When the playoffs ended, Lindberg needed surgery to repair bilateral hip labral tears in both hips on May 6, with a six-month recovery period. So the road back was long and difficult, and not surprising at all that it took a while to hit his stride this season.
“I think most of it was coming back into game shape and finding your game rhythm and playing your best hockey,” said Lindberg, who feels 100 percent recovered now. “That’s what took the most time. The hips felt good pretty early, but finding that rhythm and everything took longer than expected.”
It was frustrating for a kid trying to make an impact after a difficult second half – which he indicated was not a product of the injuries.
“I think especially having to go through that,” he said. “It’s kind of a setback when you want to train and get back in better shape, and be a better player. It’s kind of a setback where you have to do all the rehab and not be able to work out, and be able to get a stronger game. That was the most frustrating part.”
The dynamic of the fourth line has changed throughout this season, with Jesper Fast (currently out injured), Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel, Lindberg and a few others spending time there prior to the arrival of Glass on Monday. But the line has been atypical for an NHL bottom three in that, while it always had speed, it is hardly burly or overly physical, nor is it a prototypical checking unit.
“As much as you (might not) want to believe it, Tanner’s fast, too,” Stepan said. “He’s going to add an element of physicality, too. He’ll keep that line playing with some speed. Right now, this is the kind of direction our team has gone into, a speed mindset. And I think Tanner’s worked real hard to keep his speed. He’s always been a fast player.”
Glass certainly has a straight-ahead element that most of the others don’t, and has obvious bite in his game – witness the slugfest he performed at center ice in his season debut Monday – but Lindberg has a little of that, too. He has ticked off opponents plenty this season, and his 8.36 hits per 60 minutes (per sportingcharts.com) lead the team.
“When you don’t get the minutes as a top line, you try to make a difference, whether it’s hitting or getting speed or getting scoring chances or winning a faceoff,” Lindberg said. “Just coming in and contributing with something, I think that’s important.
“I mean, when you’re not having your game or you feel like your game is not going like you want it to, you can still do stuff. You can grind and get some hits and get in their faces and be a part of the game in some way. I’ve always been a guy who tries to get in and get hits and finish my checks. Maybe now, being on the fourth line, you get a little more scrums and stuff like that. But that’s part of the game.”
A part to not be overlooked.