The New York Rangers faced arguably their biggest test of the season last night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins visited Madison Square Garden. It was the first time in a year that Sidney Crosby skated on Madison Square Garden, and like all games between these bitter rivals, sparks flew early.
Withing the first minute of the game, Sean Avery and Tyler Kennedy took coincidental minors for roughing. That wouldn’t be the end of it however, as the two immediately dropped the gloves after exiting the penalty box. It would set the tone for the entire game. In similar fashion, Brandon Prust dropped the gloves right off the face-off to start the Rangers game against the Flyers over the weekend. A game they also won.
The team came alive in the second period, with a huge offensive outburst. They scored four goals, after being down 1-0.
Rookie Carl Hagelin has been incredibly effective for the team in the short time since his call up. In the second period, once again the speed of Hagelin led to a Rangers goal.
“Obviously he has tremendous speed, so that works to the whole lines advantage,” Ranger forward John Mitchell said of line-mate Hagelin “If he chip the puck in, he’s gonna be flying in there… gonna be the first guy in the majority of the time because he’s so fast.”
After the game, the world elite was bandied about by many people following the team. The Rangers have now won three straight games against supposedly elite teams, and have won 10 out of their last 12. Elite is not a word to be taken lightly, but center Brad Richards believes that he plays for a very tough team.
“We believe in here were capable of winning any night,” Richards said.
When John Tortorella took over, there was a lot of talk about his high flying, run and gun coaching system. There was a question as to whether or not the parts in place would work for his system, but every day it seems more and more that Tortorella has evovled with the system, and the pieces he and management have put in place.
After practice today, the coach spoke to reporters about his team’s identity, and how he feels they have progressed.
“We have worked three years at trying to create this type of identity,” Tortorella said of the team’s “blue-collar,” hard working mantra. “This is the style of play we want to play here…. We feel this is the right way to play for our team. And I think the past 2 or 3 games have been as close to our identity as we’ve gotten this year.”
Rangers winger Marian Gaborik has also had a return to form for the team. The sniper appears to “have his legs,” as John Tortorella put it. He is creating plays with his speed, and is dangerous every time he steps on the ice.
The Rangers beat the Hurricanes 5-1 in the only match-up between the two teams back on November 11th. That game saw a four-goal offensive outburst in the 3rd period.
Are the New York Rangers an elite team? Only time will tell. Elite status comes with consistency, and it’s hard to call a team consistent only a quarter of the way through a season.