By Dubi Silverstein
The Rangers got back on track last night with an almost resounding 5-2 win over Don Maloney's upstart Phoenix Coyotes, ending a three-game losing streak. They scored early, and they scored in bunches, opening up a 4-0 lead before the game was half over.
It looked like a laugher when former Ranger prospect Jason LaBarbera was brought in to replace Ilya Bryzgalov, who had given up all four goals on just eleven shots. After all, Bryzgalov was the reason for the Coyotes' surprising start, leading the league's starting goalies in GAA and second in save percentage before being strafed by the Rangers.
But nothing comes easy in Rangerland. They allowed a two-goal comeback in the latter half of the second period that threatened to make a game out of it, especially when the Yotes got a power play early in the third period that they nearly converted.
In hindsight, it was good that they had that four-goal cushion, because two-goal leads were not sufficient in each of their last three games—twice they blew such leads in losing to San Jose and Montreal, and once they erased their opponents' lead but could not turn that into a victory of their own in losing to the Devils.
Worse than that, the first star of the game and the Rangers' top star of the season, Marian Gaborik, left early with an apparent leg injury. The Great Gabbo had scored twice, both on the power play, and assisted on a third goal to once again pace the Ranger attack—he is now the league's co-leader in goals with ten and is second in points with 18.
But it only took a dozen games for the qualifier that always accompanies Gaborik—"if he can stay healthy"—to become reality when he left the ice for the duration in the third period flexing his right leg.
Fortunately, it appears to be a transient injury, unrelated to his chronic hip and groin problems, and he believes that it is minor. "I collided with one of their players," Gaborik said after emerging from the trainer's room, where he was when he was announced as the game's first star. "We'll see how everything is in the morning. But it's nothing major and nothing related to my groin or hips or anything like that. That's it."
Head coach John Tortorella did not seem all that concerned about it and said that he sent Gaborik off early because the game was already in hand.
On Gaborik's opposite wing, a young star may be emerging. Enver Lisin had a goal and an assist against his former team last night, taking the team lead in scoring pace—he scores a point every 19.25 minutes, compared to Gaborik scoring every 14:38 (Gaborik obviously gets more ice time—nearly ten minutes more per game on average).
His speed looks like a perfect fit on a line with Gaborik, at least for now. Tortorella is pleased with his progress on defense and physical play. He is, however, a split second slower than Gaborik in reaction time and decision-making, and that makes a difference in his results (not that there is any shame in being a split second slower than Gaborik).
He is also emerging as somewhat of a character off the ice, something the vanilla Rangers of last season lacked—Vinny Prospal has been the team leader in spicing things up. If you were watching on TV last night, you saw Lisin's expertly delivered deadpan line answering a question about one thing people don't know about him: "I'm a really bad singer."
And after the game, asked about scoring against the team that traded him away, he said, "Somewhere deep, deep in my soul, I am pretty happy about it."
We wrote during preseason how exciting it would be to see a young Russian line of second-year man Lisin skating with rookies Artem Anisimov and Evgeny Grachev, as dynamic as they looked at times. Lisin is making the most of his opportunity to play on the top line.
Anisimov has had flashes of brilliance too, despite being relegated to the fourth line after starting as third line center. He scored the Rangers' opening goal for the second straight game, using a pair of soft hands and quick feet to create goals out of seemingly nothing. He is a close second to Lisin in scoring pace, generating a point every 18.67 minutes in even less ice time (less than ten minutes per game).
How long can it be before he gets a chance to do what Lisin is doing? After seeing Brandon Dubinsky and Christopher Higgins respond well to their benchings in Montreal, how long can it be before Anisimov replaces Chris Drury, who needs to be benched for his continued unproductive and sometimes harmful play?
In case you didn't notice, that was his man who scored the shorthanded goal that threw a scare into the Rangers, Drury turning north after chipping the puck deep into his own zone while his man and the puck turned south toward the Ranger net.
Tortorella promised more benchings after witnessing the impact he had on young Dubinsky and Higgins—will he have the guff to try the tactic on his captain?
Lisin's emergence stands in start contrast to the lack of productivity of the player he was traded for—Lauri Korpikoski is pointless in seven games as a Coyote. The only thing he is emerging as is as another in a long line of Ranger pre-lockout first round draft busts.
The Rangers have done well in the first round since the lockout, a point emphasized again last night by Mike Del Zotto, their top pick in 2008, as he regained the scoring lead among all rookies and moved back into a tie for the scoring lead among all defensemen with his two assists—he is third on the Rangers in scoring pace with a point every 16:28, and he played solid solid defense last night too.