After every game of the 2011-2012 season, each Rangers' player will be assigned a letter grade based on his individual performance, impact on the game and outlook going forward.
Full disclosure—the results of a shootout will never impact my overall analysis of a player’s performance in a particular game. The shootout awards a gimmick point in the standings, one that will help the Rangers earn a spot, but not succeed, in the playoffs. We have seen first-hand that a playoff position built on shootout victories does not bode well for success in the second season, something that should be the primary expectation for the Rangers and their fans.
With that said, let’s take a look at the grades:
At this point you have to think that Gaborik’s nagging injuries last season were more serious than anyone within the organization was letting on. He has been so explosive and dynamic on both ends of the ice so far this season, a trend that continued last night against Anaheim.
After Wolski left the game with an injury, Gaborik seemed like he was taking extra shifts on almost every line. Give him a ton of credit, he jumped from line-to-line all night long and still managed to create scoring chances (seven shots on goal), whether he was playing with Stepan-Fedotenko, Boyle-Prust, or Anisimov-Christensen. Throw in a perfect cross-ice pass to Jeff Woywitka for the first Rangers' goal and Gaborik was, once again, the best forward on the ice for either team.
Despite recording only one shot on goal, I thought Anisimov played his best game of the season last night. He had a little extra jump in his step from early on in the first period and stayed aggressive in the offensive zone, creating turnovers and scoring chances. Anisimov’s improved play was rewarded with nearly 16 minutes of ice-time, and increased responsibility once Wolski left the game mid-way through the first period. I don’t know what changed, but maybe some roster spot competition has finally kicked Anisimov into gear.
McDonagh failed to step up, ultimately screening Lundqvist on the Anaheim goal, and he missed a wide-open net in overtime on a pass from Girardi that would have ended the game. However, he still earns an “A” in my book. McDonagh played with a ferocity that we have yet to see from him in his young career. He knocked Corey Perry right off his skates after he charged hard on Lundqvist after the whistle and he wrestled Bobby Ryan to the ground later in the game. McDonagh seemed to be playing with a chip on his shoulder—we see something new from this kid every game.
What else is there to say about Sauer? Seriously, what else is there to say? He doesn’t contribute much on the offensive end, but he is unbelievably steady in his own zone. Has he been on the ice for a goal against yet this year? That's a serious question, because I don’t remember any.
Michael Del Zotto
You have to think that even Tortorella is starting to come around on Del Zotto. In a lot of ways, he and Sauer are the perfect pair—the smooth skater with remarkable, yet sometimes reckless, playmaking ability, and the stay-at-home sweeper defenseman that doesn’t let anything past him. It seems like Del Zotto has become more comfortable jumping into the rush, knowing that Sauer has him covered. Even from the side of the net, he felt comfortable enough to risk his shot flying around the boards and out of the zone knowing that Sauer would be back there. I love his aggressiveness and I think he is probably here to stay. Top 10 in the NHL in plus/minus isn't bad.
Once again, Dubinsky failed to put the puck in the net and was an absolute atrocity in the face-off circle. Despite his struggles, however, he really seems to have his motor running on the offensive end and looks comfortable playing alongside Richards and Callahan. Above all, I loved the matching minor penalty he took after getting involved with Corey Perry in the first period. I wish they dropped the gloves—that’s the kind of emotion I want to see on a nightly basis.
There are a lot of things that Callahan does really well, but coming in alone on the goalie might not be one of them. I love the Captain, but he’s not the guy who I want to see with a clear breakaway from the red-line.
Callahan has adjusted well to playing in front of the net on the power-play. His deflection ability has become noticeably better and, more so than any other player on this team, he is committed to getting the puck straight to the net (six shots).
Is it possible that Girardi doesn’t get enough credit for the work he has done so far this season. I think most would give him props for stepping in for Staal as the Rangers' shutdown defenseman, but few would actually admit that he might be better. Girardi leads the entire NHL in minutes played per game and still manages to contribute offensively. League take notice—Girardi is a beast.
I did assign Girardi a “B”, however, for the first time this season. He was a workhorse once again, but I noticed a few lazy turnovers, especially in the first period. My rough count was five defensive zone cough-ups for a guy that is usually rock solid with the puck in his own end.
I didn’t love Richards’ overall performance last night, but I give him credit for centering the Rangers' most effective forward line and leading a Rangers' power-play that is starting to seem a little bit dangerous. While he has relinquished some his QB duties to the emerging Michael Del Zotto, Richards has brought a sense of stability and calmness to the power-play and has really turned things around after some early season struggles.
That’s the Woywitka slap-shot that we’ve all heard so much about. I don’t even blame Jonas Hillier in the slightest for letting it roll through his legs. All joking aside, props to Woywitka for his first Rangers' goal, but Hillier stops that puck 99 times out of 100. Only 10 minutes of ice-time does not bode well for his spot on this team going forward but, for now, a well deserved Broadway Hat for Woywitka.
I thought Fedotenko stepped up nicely after Wolski’s departure from the game, playing extended minutes on a line with Stepan and Gaborik. He assisted on the Rangers' goal (albeit secondary), and rung a shot off the post that would have won the game in overtime. I still think he is a fourth-line player, but it’s always good to see an energy player come through with the team shorthanded.
These soft goals are starting to become a little bit of a thorn in my side. Lundqvist played well last night, especially in a third period dominated by Anaheim, but once again a soft shot from the outside made him look silly. Is it due to a lack of concentration? I don’t think so—Lundqvist has always proven to be spot-on with his focus on home ice. With as good as Biron has looked early on, I wouldn’t mind seeing Tortorella giving Lundqvist a little more time off early in the season.
If you blinked you might have missed it, but at one point Eminger found himself deep in the Anaheim zone and fired off two shots on net, the second of which was aimed for the top shelf before Hillier knocked it away. I note this specific play in the game because it’s the first time all season that I’ve seen Eminger look to contribute offensively. It was another solid game for Eminger (plus-one), but I still need to see more than 12 minutes of ice-time for me to really consider him a significant contributor.
Stepan’s line score was fairly impressive last night—two shots, six hits, five of seven face-offs and a plus-one. I’m sorry but I am still not happy with his play. He always seems to be out of position and, when Gaborik is flying all over the ice, Stepan is nowhere to be found. He is by no means a detriment, but I expect more. It seems as though a lot people disagree with me so tell me, am I wrong for expecting Stepan to produce and create more than he has in his first year-plus in the NHL?
He didn’t do anything noticeably good or bad in limited ice time, but big credit goes to Deveaux for taking on George Parros, one of the most imposing fighters in all of hockey. I wouldn’t say Deveaux won the fight, but he certainly held his own and kept the momentum on the Rangers' side after the Woywitka goal.
Is it just me or do Anisimov and Christensen have a little bit of chemistry out there? If Tortorella can hook these two up with a decent winger (Avery/Fedotenko), we could have the makings of a decent third line (yes, Boyle and Prust are fourth-line players). I know this sounds like praise, but I’m just looking for a silver lining for the guy who Tortorella called the “Total Package." Christensen was a non-factor after his two-point breakout game against San Jose.
In general, I think that the third line (Boyle-Prust-Fedotenko) has been a complete disappointment. I put most of the blame of Boyle (see next section), but Prust deserves some ridicule as well. With Prust, passion usually leads to production. I saw the effort last night, but nothing he is doing seems to be translating into scoring chances. I wouldn’t hesitate to throw Sean Avery on a line with Prust and see if they can develop some chemistry.
12 minutes and 44 seconds of ice-time. That is unacceptable from a guy like Boyle. Boyle’s lack of production is now at an alarming stage, and I worry that last season was a complete fluke. The guy is not pulling his weight out there. He is playing soft, he is playing dumb and he is playing without any passion. His lack of contributions have forced Tortorella to tax the top forwards (Richards, Callahan, Dubsinky, Gaborik) with heavy minutes, a trend that cannot continue if this team expects to contend late in the season.
Wojtek Wolski (INJ)