Two Points and an Extension in Busy Weekend for Rangers

Sunday was a busy day for the New York Rangers organization. Not only did they finish the season series with the Penguins on a high note in Pittsburgh with a 5-2 win, the Blueshirts also agreed to a long-term contract extension for veteran defenseman Marc Staal.

But put aside the news of Staal’s contract for just a moment, and let’s first take a look at what went down at the Consol Energy Center on Sunday afternoon.

Keeping the Penguins at Bay

With their 5-2 victory on Sunday, the Rangers completed the 2014-15 regular season series having earned a point in every contest against the Penguins for the first time since the 1996-97 season. While the Rangers went a perfect 4-0-0 that year, the Rangers did go 3-0-0-1 this time around, with their only loss coming in controversial shootout fashion back in November.

Mere moments after NBC’s Pierre McGuire asked Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang how the Penguins were going to shut down Rick Nash prior to puck drop, the Rangers All-Star put his team in front when he took advantage of a cross ice pass which Letang couldn’t handle, raced down the ice, and beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a snipe from the left circle.

The goal for Nash was his 27th of the season, which at the time put him in a tie with Tyler Seguin for the league lead (Nash would go on to add another goal in the second period.)

Not long after Nash got the Rangers going, it was Derrick Brassard’s turn when he took advantage of a big rebound off the boards behind Fleury. After a big shot from the point, the puck bounced in front of the Penguins net, and Brassard was quick retrieve it and whipped the rubber past the Pittsburgh netminder to double the Rangers’ lead to two.

After the Penguins got one back to cut the Rangers lead in half, courtesy of Sidney Crosby, New York struck again, as a Nash shot got deflected by Rob Scuderi in front, and floated over Fleury in what felt like slow motion, to give the Rangers the 3-1 lead.

With credit going to Nash on the Rangers third goal, he moved into sole possession of first place in the NHL with 28 goals.

While Pittsburgh attempted to mount a comeback at various points, the Rangers continually had an answer for their Metropolitan Division foes.

In the final period and a half, Derek Stepan went on to add two goals of his own, the first of which came on the power play, which is now ranked 12th in the league with a 19.7 percent conversion rate.

It was a big two points for the Rangers in the ever-developing playoff race, as they now sit just two points back of the Penguins for second place in the metropolitan division. Here are some other quick-hit observations from the 5-2 win in Pittsburgh:

    • With Pekka Rinne now sidelined for Nashville, Rick Nash continued to assert himself as a serious Hart candidate with two more goals of his own.
    • The Rangers won over 50% of faceoffs in Pittsburgh; just the second time in the last 11 games that they’ve done that. Coincidentally, two of the Blueshirts’ five goals against the Penguins came just moments after key faceoff wins, highlighting the Rangers’ need to improve in that regard.
    • Henrik Lundqvist stopped 32 of 34 shots to earn his 22nd win of the season.
    • Despite scoring one power play goal on six opportunities, the Rangers were, for the most part held to the perimeter, and struggled to generate chances in the middle of the ice with the man-advantage.
    • Chris Kreider seems to be gaining confidence and playing like his old self. The Boston College graduate is using his strength to create havoc in front of opponents nets, and now has five points (2-3-5) over his last five games.

Core Remains in Tact

As was mentioned at the top, in addition to picking up two important points in Pittsburgh, the Rangers also inked veteran defenseman Marc Staal to a six-year contract extension worth $34.2 million.

With this deal, critics could make the case that this is a lot of money to shell out for a guy who doesn’t produce very much offensively, and is by some standards only a slightly above average stay at home defenseman.

Others will say not only is this a great signing for a loyal, class-act, but it is also a huge win for the organization to keep their defense core of Girardi, McDonagh, Staal, and Klein under contract at least through the 2017-18 season.

In all honesty, I think it’s a little of both.

Yes, it is huge to secure Staal for the foreseeable future. Instead of allowing the 28-year-old defenseman to test the waters of free agency, and potentially receive nothing in return come the summer, the Rangers nailed down a deal with an annual cap-hit worth $5.7 million, and also keeps intact a core of defenseman – minus Anton Stralman – that was so integral in their run to last year’s Stanley Cup Final.

Sure, this will only make Glens Sather’s job harder come the summer as there are still a number of players who will become free agents come July 1st, something that Kevin Mizera outlines here, but the deal is now done, and Staal, who has been a Ranger since his emergence into the NHL, will remain one for the long haul.

In his words:

“I’ve had a great time growing up in this organization,” said Staal. “I have a lot of respect for what we’ve done and a lot of fun winning games with the guys in this room. It was the right choice.”

It’s good to see that Staal, who has been playing very well as of late, and is one of those players who consistently ups his game when it comes to the post-season, will be staying with the Rangers. It may have taken a pretty penny to make it happen, but apparently that’s the going price nowadays for a defenseman of his caliber. Just look at Brooks Orpik.

Now I’m just curious as to what Mr. Sather’s next move will be, for his job certainly won’t be getting any easier…