As the Rangers practiced, then broke for turkey, they had a fair amount for which to be thankful.
Henrik Lundqvist has gotten back at or near the top of his game. Was there ever any doubt? (That’s rhetorical.)
But I will admit, I had some doubt. A little bit anyway.
He’s never been 35 before and he slumped early on. But I knew for sure that the Rangers couldn’t climb out of their early-season funk if he didn’t leap out of his. And he certainly has gotten out of it. Lundqvist has allowed just one goal in the last two games, none at even strength. In the last three games, he has stopped 72 of 73 even-strength shots.
By the way, this is the 14th time in his career he has started 10 or more games in a row.
The Rangers can also be thankful that one of their bigger questions (another one I had) has so far been answered in the positive. Could Mika Zibanejad assume the role as the Rangers’ No. 1 center and could Kevin Hayes become a legit No. 2? Both players have come through.
Meanwhile, as the Rangers have tightened up defensively, not only as a group of seven defensemen, but as a group of five on the ice. They have allowed two goals or fewer in five of the last six games and they’ve erased that 3-7-2 start to get right back into the Metropolitan Division race with an 8-2 run.
The Rangers can be thankful that the rest of the East & Metro haven’t gotten away from them. They can also be thankful that this is November, a month in which they have excelled since 2005-06, going 100-52-10. There are three winnable home games left this month – against Detroit Friday night, Vancouver Sunday afternoon and Florida Tuesday.
I was thankful, personally, for not being one of the poor beat writers traveling from Raleigh on Thanksgiving day. I can’t tell you how many Thanksgivings, New Year’s Eves, and Easters I spent on the road when I traveled full-time. A few day-after-Christmases too. Not to mention a very memorable April Fool’s Day in 1989 (you know, the one where Phil Esposito fired Michel Bergeron with two games left in the regular season, lost both, then got swept by the Penguins, punching Espo’s ticket out of town).
Some other thoughts:
1) How about Zibanejad’s pop-fly goal against Scott Darling in Carolina Wednesday? Never a bad play making the goalie field a puck as you go for a change.
It certainly wasn’t the old “fake dump-in/surprise shot on goal” play. That’s a lost art now, it seems. Derek Stepan was the only Ranger in recent memory who would shock a cheating/leaning goalie from time to time by faking the dump-in and firing it on goal.
Ron Greschner, if memory serves, was a regular trickster in that regard. Once in a blue moon, it turns into a goal, but more often it keeps a goalie honest and it might keep him from cutting off a dump-in behind the net later in the game.
2) The Rangers’ defensive play has largely been aided by a commitment to a forecheck in the other end, especially in the last two victories and especially after they hadn’t spent enough time behind the opponent’s defense in the consecutive losses during this 10-game stretch. Granted, Carolina didn’t defend well, or with much gusto, but a lot of credit for that goes to the Rangers.
3) Chris Kreider scored twice in the first minute of a period Wednesday – the first Ranger to do so, according to Elias Sports Bureau, since one of my all-time favorites, Eddie “Ciggy” Johnstone.
4) In case you missed it, the Rangers will practice outdoors, at Lasker Rink in Central Park, Sunday Dec. 2 at noon. And it’s open to the public.
5) Is it just me or are referees and linesmen getting in the way of players and pucks these days? With replay reviewing all goals, why do refs ever need to be below the icing line when the puck or players are back there?