After every game of the New York Rangers 2011-12 season, I will assign each Rangers player a letter grade based on his individual performance, impact on the game and outlook going forward.
In Game 12 of the regular season, the New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-3. Don’t look now, but the Rangers are beginning to shoot up the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 6-3-3.
Let’s take a look at the grades:
Michael Del Zotto
With all due respect to Dan Girardi, Brad Richards, and Artem Anisimov, Del Zotto was easily my star of the game last night. With the help of an excessive amount of power-play opportunities, Del Zotto racked up a ton of ice time and played with a growing confidence that is turning this kid into a solid NHL defenseman.
Del Zotto was active, yet smart, about jumping in on the offensive rush, and he made an outstanding, highlight-reel play to put the puck through the legs of Montreal goaltender Carey Price for his second goal of the season. Despite not playing with Michael Sauer, Del Zotto continued to put forth a steady defensive effort as he continues to blossom into a reliable blue-liner for this team.
I thought Richards was the Rangers' best offensive player last night, as he registered his third goal of the homestand. Realizing he was on the ice with grinders Brandon Prust and Andre Deveaux, Richards decided to do it himself, firing a puck past a screened Carey Price. While I thought the power play as a whole left something to be desired, Richards continuously weaved his way into the zone to orchestrate the man-advantage setup.
Richards was ferocious getting to loose pucks throughout the game and, in my opinion, could have had two or three assists with a few good bounces or if Brandon Dubinsky could have put the puck in the net.
Girardi played over 30 minutes in a game that did not go to overtime—what more needs to be said about this guy? Oh, right, he also scored a power-play goal (sort of) with a one-time laser to the top shelf to open up a 2-0 lead midway through the first period.
He adjusted accordingly to each of his five defensive partners, jumping into the play when paired with Steve Eminger or Ryan McDonagh and playing conservative when out there with Del Zotto or Jeff Woywitka.
Anisimov seems to have finally found his offensive game, as he was an absolute monster from the drop of the puck last night. I think the key is to put him with linemates who have the ability to play without the puck, because Anisimov excels when he has time to play with the puck on his stick. He has, in all likelihood, the best shot on the team and, as we saw in the first period last night, the ability to find open teammates given the chance to possess the puck in the offensive zone.
Anisimov has shown the ability to carry the puck both through the neutral zone and deep in the offensive zone. Slowly but surely, it seems as though his game is coming back, an encouraging sign for the formation of a potentially potent third line.
Separated from Dan Girardi for the first time this season, McDonagh came to the realization that life is a little more difficult when you’re the go-to guy on the back line. McDonagh was by no means terrible (plus-three), but he made three or four bad turnovers, including one that led to a holding penalty, and seemed more hesitant pinching on the offensive rush without Girardi behind him.
It wasn’t his best game of the season, but McDonagh still managed to play over 25 minutes, made a heads-up slap pass to Ryan Callahan on the empty-net goal, and knocked P.K. Subban right on his derriere after Subban snow-showered Henrik Lundqvist late in the third period.
Multi-point nights are becoming a bit of trend for Christensen, who put home his first goal of the season and added an assist last night. Christensen also won a remarkable eight of nine faceoffs and finally managed to eclipse the double-digit mark in ice time. There is really nowhere to go but up for Christensen at this point, and it looks like his game is starting to come together.
We all know that the captain brings a bulldog approach to the ice on a nightly basis, but last night I saw a version of Callahan that I’m not used to seeing—the pest. Callahan got his noggin in the way to loose Montreal sticks on two occasions and found himself in and around the Montreal crease before and after the whistle all night long.
After the hit on Dubinsky early in the first period (which was clean, by the way), Callahan stepped in right away on the much-bigger Mike Blunden and delivered some serious punches before taking him down to the ice. His good deed was rewarded with an empty-net goal to seal the game, and the Rangers newest captain provided another inspired performance.
Deveaux sure made the most of his four and a half minutes of ice time, registering a plus-two and a well-earned assist with some solid work on the boards in the neutral zone. Deveaux also saw some power-play time in the first period and used his big body to screen the Montreal net on Girardi’s goal. He doesn’t play much, but when he’s out there, you certainly notice him—it's good to see Deveaux taking advantage of the opportunity he has been given.
Ladies and gentleman, that is how you move the puck with a five-on-three advantage. Stepan took a pass from the point and, in one motion, fired it over to Christensen to give the Rangers an early lead. Stepan later feathered a beautiful pass to a charging Del Zotto, who took care of the rest, as the Rangers put the stamp on a dominant first period.
I am still not thrilled with some of the other parts of Stepan’s game, mainly his lack of physical play and nose for the net, but two better passes you will not see.
After being regulated to limited ice time over the past handful of games due to the return of Michael Sauer, Eminger was asked once again to play meaningful minutes in what ended up being a tight contest. As he did so often earlier in the season, Eminger stepped up, playing over 18 minutes and putting on an impressive display of physical aggression and defensive discipline.
Sauer received a game misconduct for fighting just five minutes into the first period. While it's not something I want to see all that often, as he put a major burden on the other five Rangers defensemen, it was nice to see Sauer sticking up for his teammates in a big way.
Gaborik picked up another point and added five shots on goal, but he didn’t play with the same precision and decisiveness that we have become accustomed to seeing from the star sniper. He fumbled the puck in the offensive zone all night long and missed a key defensive assignment late in the third period, leading to Montreal’s third goal. It was good to see Gaborik continue to create scoring chances despite playing his least-crisp game of the young season.
Boyle continued to look completely lost on the offensive end of the ice, highlighted by a two-on-one opportunity early on in which he rolled the puck in on Carey Price after failing to get the puck across the ice to an open linemate for a wide-open scoring opportunity.
But give Boyle some credit—he played a really nice defensive game and earned himself some important ice time late in the third period with the game on the line. Winning 9 of 12 faceoffs is a good way to contribute when you’re not playing your best hockey.
Tension began to build as Avery’s highly anticipated return was delayed by some early power-play opportunities, but when he stepped onto the ice for the first time, the crowd when into an absolute frenzy, pumping the building with electricity that you could feel through the television screen. Despite being mostly ineffective in just under five minutes of ice time, Avery’s presence was a welcome sight for a team that looks like it’s starting to find its groove.
In a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, Prust impressed me with his ability to bounce back from a terrible start to the game in the first period. After Avery cleared the puck to the middle of his own defensive zone and later mishandled an outlet pass leading to another turnover, coach John Tortorella repeatedly reamed him on the Rangers bench.
Rather than spending the rest of the game in the doghouse, however, Prust spent most of his time with the puck down below the Montreal goal line, playing to perfection the puck-possession and cycle game with Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko. Prust also tallied an assist on a well-timed no-look pass to Richards for a goal in the latter stages of the second period.
I thought Fedotenko played a solid, if not unspectacular, game last night. He did some good things, helping Boyle and Prust establish an effective cycle game in the latter stages of the third period and creating a distraction in front of the net, allowing Stepan to fire a pass through to Christensen for his first goal. For the most past, however, Fedotenko just seemed to eat up ice time and wasn’t particularly active on the offensive end.
Man, Dubinsky just cannot seem to buy a goal right now. Whether it’s the puck bouncing off his stick or an opposing defensemen getting in the way when the goalie is down, things are not going his way early on. Dubinsky has to keep chugging along—he has been playing very well of late on both ends of the ice and badly needs a puck to bounce his way to hopefully break open the floodgates.
Lundqvist has yet to look in top form on home ice this season, and last night was no exception. While not at fault on any of the goals against, Henrik battled the puck all night, as his reactions were noticeably slow and his rebound control was all over the place. I haven’t felt the usual amount of energy coming from Lundqvist since the game in Vancouver—we should see backup goaltender Martin Biron in net tonight against the Winnipeg Jets.
Woywitka seemed like he was playing in his own zone on every shift, which, fortunately for the Rangers, consisted of less than seven minutes of ice time. For Woywitka to play that sparingly after Sauer’s early misconduct is unacceptable. I don’t blame Tortorella—Woywitka was careless with the puck all night and got straight beat on a one-on-one by Erik Cole, who rang the puck off the goal post.
During the game, the CBC broadcast interviewed Anton Stralman about his recent signing with the Rangers as if he was the second coming of Mark Messier. While it may have been a bit overdone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Stralman in the lineup for Woywtika at some point in the next week.