Several hours before Tom Brady cemented his legacy as the greatest quarterback in NFL history, the New York Rangers slogged their way to a 4-3 Super Sunday victory over the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden.
Not unlike the Brady-led Super Bowl victory by the New England Patriots, it wasn’t always pretty for the Blueshirts, but the result was deserved.
OK, it’s a bit of a stretch to even mention an NHL mid-February victory in the same sentence as the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, but let’s not be too literal here.
Instead, let’s focus on what stands out from the Rangers win.
Good things happen when Rick Nash gets himself to the opposing crease and net areas.
With his size, strength, and sweet pair of hands, Nash is an incredibly tough cover for NHL defensemen in all areas of the offensive zone, but particularly down low. Whether deflecting shots in front, winning puck battles down low, converting rebounds into goals –or at the very least prime scoring opportunities– screening goaltenders, and/or wearing down defensemen, Nash is quite simply a handful near the other team’s net.
This is nothing new, of course, but it needs to be mentioned again because, quite frankly, Nash doesn’t spend nearly enough time in the “dirty” areas where so many goals are scored in today’s National Hockey League.
Now with Nash’s immense skill, which includes the ability to score off the rush and in various other ways, it is somewhat understandable why he is not often enough a net presence for the Rangers.
However, two prime examples of how good he is down low were in evidence Sunday.
Exhibit A: With the Rangers on the power play, Nash heads to the top of the crease, gets in behind the defense, deflects Ryan McDonagh’s shot on goal, and then buries his own rebound over Brian Elliott, using that great finishing touch he has from in-tight, tying the game, 1-1, in the first period.
Exhibit B: Though this apparent goal is disallowed because the clock hits double zero, Nash shows incredible skill by deflecting McDonagh’s pass between his legs, with his back to the net, and up under the cross-bar at the end of the second period. The key here is that Nash’s size and skill once again come into play in front of the Calgary net.
Being a consistent net presence not only adds to his offensive arsenal, it helps make Nash more effective off the rush and in other scoring areas, as well.
Let ‘er Rip, Kreider
Chris Kreider has many of the same attributes Rick Nash does as a power forward.
Size. Strength. Skill. Finish.
Kreider is faster and nastier. Nash has more of a more refined skill set and better resume.
They can both be a pain in the neck down low, as well as a handful off the rush.
While encouraging Nash to have more of a net presence, Kreider needs to shoot more on the fly to flush out his game.
Kreider is an absolute beast in front of the opposing net, an absolute warrior in puck battles. Yet he also is as dangerous a threat to score speeding into the offensive zone as any other forward in the league. He just needs to shoot more from the circles in full flight as he did in giving New York a 3-2 lead in the third period Sunday.
Good things have always happened for Kreider and the Rangers when he blazes over the blue line and unleashes his dangerous shot, right from the moment he made his NHL debut during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. He just hasn’t done it often enough.
To his credit, Kreider has scored more off the rush this season then in the past, and has already equaled his career-best of 21 goals. Like Nash, being a dual threat, scoring from in close and at full speed, makes Kreider one of the biggest offensive threats in the sport.
There is no short supply of Patriots fans in the Rangers locker room, led by Tom Brady disciples Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Kreider.
In fact, Hayes does not even refer to Brady by name. He simply calls him the GOAT.
Greatest Of All Time.
Hayes, Vesey and Kreider sure do, that’s for sure.
So, it comes as no surprise that these very vocal Blueshirts from Massachusetts took to social media Sunday night to celebrate Brady and Bill Belichick’s fifth Super Bowl title together.
Love watching the 🐐play. #TB12 #inbillwetrust pic.twitter.com/S6CxuGbuqw
— Kevin Hayes (@KevinPHayes12) February 5, 2017
Nor was it a surprise that Hayes continued the celebration on Monday.
To add to Hayes’ joy, he practiced Monday and looks ready to return to the lineup Tuesday from a lower body injury when the Rangers host the Anaheim Ducks.
.@KevinPHayes12 says he's "feeling well" after today's #NYR practice. pic.twitter.com/bv1uqlBygt
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 6, 2017
If Hayes does indeed play, it will be the first time since Nov. 12 that the Rangers will have their entire roster healthy and intact for a game. That is, of course, if Marc Staal is available. The veteran defenseman sat out practice Monday due to an illness.