On Saturday against the Hurricanes, fans all throughout Rangerstown were again reminded just how lucky they are to have Henrik Lundqvist manning their crease. Rick Nash also marched onward in his (debatably) Hart-worthy season as he netted his 29th goal of the year, Dominic Moore worked his shorthanded magic, and new line combinations could be a sign of things to come moving forward. It was an eventful and successful weekend for the Broadway Blueshirts.
Hank the Tank
There’s no need to reiterate how good Henrik Lundqvist is. He is New York Rangers hockey through and through. He gives his team a chance to win each and every night, and when it comes to the big stage, there are few who perform to the level which he does.
So naturally, it was quite a scary moment at Madison Square Garden when The King took a puck to the throat courtesy of a Brad Malone shot, and went down with what initially appeared to be a rather serious injury.
But as we’ve seen with Lundqvist time and time again, his competitive nature is second to none. That was on full display on Saturday when he somehow fought off the initial pain, regrouped and settled himself down as “Hen-Rik” chants rained down from the crowd, and stayed in to finish the game without missing a beat.
Lundqvist completed the evening with 31 saves to earn his 24th win of the season. It really was remarkable.
But with that came the always important reminder to not take him for granted. He is established now as one of the greatest netminders in the game, and to have him between the pipes in New York is something special. As Lundqvist said himself, Saturday’s incident could’ve been much worse.
“Hank is such a competitor so when he’s down like that you’re scared for him..but thank goodness he is OK”-Marc Staal #NYR
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) February 1, 2015
He and the Rangers were truly lucky it wasn’t.
No Shortage of Nashy-ness
Rick Nash has yet to score 30 goals in a season while wearing a Rangers uniform. On Saturday, it was Nash who got the Rangers off on the right foot on Saturday as he opened the scoring just 6:30 into the contest. With the tally from the big New York winger, Nash is now within one of finally cracking the 30 goal marker for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.
Through 47 games this season, Nash has already compiled 29 goals (T-1 in NHL) and 44 points, and could potentially challenge his career highs in both of those categories if he can continue, or better his current pace.
Three of Nash’s goals this season have also come shorthanded, as he ranks third among Rangers forwards in shorthanded time on ice. There aren’t many of Nash’s caliber that you can say that about, which says a lot about the two-way game he plays on a night in and night out basis.
More and More of Moore
It was only a matter of time before Dominic Moore got rewarded for his tenacious penalty killing this season. Throughout the year, Dominic Moore has been one-half of the Rangers main forward duo with regard to penalty killing, the other half being his counterpart Carl Hagelin.
Moore currently has the team lead among forwards with 98:14 in penalty killing time, with Carl Hagelin having had just 34 fewer seconds ranked second. And while lines and defensive pairings have shuffled here and there throughout the season, the Moore-Hagelin combination has remained consistent. Behind those two, the Ranger forward who has the next highest shorthanded time on ice total is Rick Nash, and he clocks in at 64:07, over 30 fewer minutes than the top penalty killing forward pair.
With that said, it was great to see the top penalty-killing forward on the Rangers, who has in part helped New York climb to 12th in the NHL in that category, get rewarded for his persistent nightly efforts.
While skating down a man during the first period of Saturday’s game, Moore went coast to coast with the puck, made a slick play to beat the Carolina defense, and went to his backhand to beat Cam Ward. The goal was his fourth of the season, but his first shorthanded.
Trust me, it was quite the goal:
New Looks, Fresh Start
After getting outshot 15-8 during the first period despite leading 2-0, Alain Vigneault decided it was time for some new line combinations. For the first time in quite some time, the top two lines in particular saw some shuffling.
After playing on the second line in recent weeks, Derek Stepan moved up to center the top line between Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis, while Derrick Brassard was inserted to the third line between Carl Hagelin and Jesper Fast. That left Kevin Hayes centering the second line alongside Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello.
Apparently something clicked, for the Rangers went on to outshoot the Hurricanes 29-17 through the remaining 40 minutes of the tilt, and Kreider scored his 11th of the year with the assists coming from new linemates Hayes and Zuccarello. Additionally, the newly paired linemates Jesper Fast and Carl Hagelin also connected to help Dan Boyle net his fifth of the season.
The new combinations yielded near immediate results, and if that continues moving forward towards Monday’s game against the Panthers, the Rangers would in theory be in pretty decent shape.
The Rangers are currently holding onto the third spot in the Metropolitan Division with 60 points, and have three games in hand over the Capitals. With a Monday date against the Panthers, who are the ninth place bubble team with 52 points, the Rangers have an opportunity to increase their eight point cushion over the line that separates those in playoff position, and those on the outside looking in.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.