The New York Rangers couldn't have asked for a better time for Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik to gain some line chemistry as the team was on the verge of dropping four straight games. The first place Blueshirts avoided that by defeating the New York Islanders on Sunday.
Richards and Gaborik came up huge as the two superstar forwards cumulatively scored three of the Rangers' four goals, including Gaborik's overtime winner. Interestingly enough, both forwards also played an important role in the team's three power-play goals.
As a Ranger fan, there were many questions heading into Sunday's contest. It was a hot topic on Twitter, as fans were starting to get desperate after a brutal loss against the Chicago Blackhawks.
To paraphrase and summarize some of the questions the fans had entering Sunday, here are three of the biggest questions that were posed.
- Will the power play get going soon?
- Will the Rangers start creating more offensive chances?
- Will stars like Richards and Gaborik step up during the postseason push?
These questions were answered on Sunday. While one game should not be used to define the power play or the Rangers' latest offensive outburst, the same could and should be applied to the three-game losing streak the Rangers just worked themselves out of.
The team should be defined by their great play that has earned them 93 points with 15 games remaining. This is an extremely important statistic considering the Blueshirts had 93 points through 82 games during the 2010-11 campaign.
Sunday's game could prove to be one of the most important of the season. This is not because the Rangers found a way to dig out of a hole, it is because things are starting to look better offensively and because the team's top two offensive guns are now understanding each other better.
Brad Richards says he can feel more chemistry with Gaborik now than at beginning of season, starting to understand where he'll be on ice
This tweet from Andrew Gross, Rangers beat writer for the Record, should be music to the ears of Ranger die-hards. At the trade deadline, fans were clamoring for Glen Sather to add some offensive firepower to be paired with Richards. It seemed that he needed another offensive-minded player on his wing so that the line could generate more offense. Having a premier passer in Richards paired with a premier goal scorer in Gaborik is something that will benefit the team in the playoffs.
With a top line of Carl Hagelin—Brad Richards—Marian Gaborik, the team will have a balance of speed, finesse and creativity.
This will allow players like Artem Anisimov to be paired with Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan and/or Brandon Dubinsky. The bottom six is already established with grinders like Brian Boyle, Mike Rupp, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, just to name a few of the Blueshirts' more hard-nosed bottom forwards.
From here the possibilities become endless if you add the newly recalled Mats Zuccarello into the mix, or potential late-season signee Chris Kreider as potential top six offensive producers.
The biggest concern for the Blueshirts come playoff time is scoring. The team has been a steady defensive team with amazing goaltending all year long. In the playoffs, teams take less chances and games are low scoring. With the Rangers excelling in games with a score of 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 and so on, having a new-found offensive spark could work wonders for them.
The true test to see if this offensive spark will continue is when the Rangers face off against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, and the surging Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. If the Rangers can continue to establish offensive chances and success on the man advantage, the Rangers could become very dangerous in the playoffs.
Richards and Gaborik finding chemistry could prove to be a late turning point in the Rangers' 2011-12 campaign.
Tom Urtz Jr. is an NHL Featured Columnist. For NHL news, updates and alerts about players: