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.
Let’s take a look at the grades:
Derek Stepan—Stepan capped off a great weekend of hockey by earning the right to wear the suddenly Twitter-trendy Broadway Hat. He found himself in perfect position to roof a deflected pass from Michael Del Zotto for his first power-play goal of the season and later set up Marian Gaborik on a two-on-one for a goal. The thing that impressed me most was that everyone in the building, including the defenseman, knew that Stepan was going to try to slide the puck over to Gaborik, yet he was still able to find a lane and deliver a perfect pass. With six points in his last five games, Stepan is starting to sizzle on a line with Gaborik and Artem Anisimov.
Marian Gaborik—Gaborik seemed to be the only player with fresh life in his legs on either bench, with both teams coming into the second game of a back-to-back weekend set. Although Gaborik’s first-period assist may have resulted from an accidental deflection, his two goals were anything but, as he further proved that there is almost no player more dangerous in the open ice. Gaborik has now officially been a point-per-game player this season—I don’t know about everyone else but I think he can be even better.
Dan Girardi—Girardi gave about as tough a performance as you are going to see in a regular season hockey game, blocking shots off his skate and his hand in a defensive effort that, if possible, topped anything else we’ve seen from him this season. To be honest, I thought there was no way he was coming back after slamming his head into the boards, especially considering the current concussion situation with Marc Staal. I continue to be amazed at what Girardi, an undrafted player with minimal potential, has brought to this team.
Martin Biron—I’ve heard a lot of “great game from Biron, but he didn’t have to do much” over the past few days. With all due respect, I completely disagree. I thought Biron stood on his head on a few different occasions, most specifically on a ridiculous 11-player pileup in his own crease. Fantastic game from Biron, who after only three appearances, is putting together a really nice season and giving Tortorella every reason to give Lundqvist some extra rest as the season moves along.
Michael Sauer—At a young age, Sauer seems to know every trick in the book when it comes to making a defensive play. Whether it’s using his stick, his glove or even his entire body, Sauer makes the right play nearly 100 percent of the time. He is as solid as they come on the back end.
Michael Del Zotto—Del Zotto is playing at a level right now that far exceeds anything I expected from him coming in as a youngster. I think it’s fair to expect some regression over the next few weeks, but for now it is truly a pleasure to watch him fly all over the ice setting up teammates and creating scoring opportunities on the offensive end. He has even added little snarl to his game, as he dumped a Winnipeg player right off his skates for poking at Marty Biron after the whistle.
Andre Deveaux—I thought Deveaux played his best game as a Ranger against Winnipeg, and didn’t need a fight to justify his performance. He threw the body around every time he was on the ice, which, as an aside, increased to over seven minutes. He doesn’t always make it look pretty on the offensive end, but it seems like whenever he makes a play on the puck, something good happens—even if it takes him three or four whacks to get it done.
Artem Anisimov—After a big four-point weekend and the injury to Wojtek Wolski, Anisimov has entrenched himself right back on Tortorella’s good side and into a spot on a line alongside Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan. Anisimov has filled a nice role on that line—the guy who is responsible defensively and is willing to do the dirty work to allow his gifted linemates to make plays in open ice. Anisimov made a great play in the neutral zone to spring Stepan and Gaborik on an odd-man rush and played a pivotal role defensively at the end of the game to allow Gaborik to ice it with an empty-netter.
Ryan McDonagh—Status quo is the word for this young Rangers star, who is now plus-six on the season and continued his string of strong play with three blocked shots and another 25-plus minute night.
Ruslan Fedotenko—The Fedotenko conundrum: What do you do with a guy who seems to play well and gives an all-out effort on most nights, but is not quite gifted enough offensively to play on any of the top scoring lines? My thought is to throw him on a line with Andre Deveaux and Sean Avery and let them try to grind out hard-working shifts. Maybe moving the suddenly hot and undeniably talented Erik Christensen up to the third line can get Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust going a little bit
Brandon Dubinsky—It’s actually becoming somewhat entertaining to see how long this team can keep winning without Dubinsky putting a single puck in the net. I mean come on, Brandon, even Jeff Woywtika managed to slip one over the goal line. Dubinsky is really playing well despite another goose egg and was oh-so-close to a goal on a deflection in front of the net in the first period.
Brad Richards—On a night where the Stepan-Gaborik-Anisimov line stole the show, Richards was quietly effective as he Callahan and Dubinsky generated a decent amount of scoring opportunities (six shots) and once again swallowed up over 20 minutes of ice-time. While there was nothing extraordinary to be taken out of this game, you have to give Richards a ton of credit for an excellent home-stand.
Ryan Callahan—See: Brad Richards.
Erik Christensen—To say Christensen was robbed of a goal on the Rangers' five-on-three power-play opportunity would be a complete understatement. On a play almost identical to his goal against Montreal, Christensen was flat-out fleeced on a puck that was headed right for the top shelf. If that puck goes in, we’re talking about Christensen’s fifth point in the last four games.
Sean Avery—The New York Rangers are undefeated in games where Sean Avery dresses—what more needs to be said?
Brandon Prust—Prust found himself open for a few scoring opportunities, but didn’t do much else throughout the course of the game. Where is the energy? Where is the fire? I am still tempted to put most of the blame on Brian Boyle, but Prust needs to step up and reassert himself on a team that is starting to grow leaders left and right
Brian Boyle—For the second game in a row, Boyle produced nicely in the faceoff circle. Away from the faceoff dot, however, Boyle continued a style of play that I would best describe as soft, unconfident and confused. Last season, this guy was a total bull, with the ability to both power right through defensemen and finesse his way around them. Even when he manages to get the puck behind the goal line, his only play is to cycle it back behind the net. He’s not finding the open man, he’s not shooting the puck with authority and, if not for a few injuries, would probably find himself relegated to fourth-line duty.
Steve Eminger/Jeff Woywitka—Just eight minutes of ice-time for this fearsome defensive duo —it’s despicable and I am starting to get really tired of Tortorella putting the onus on Girardi and McDonagh to play the amount of minutes they have so far this season. I swear, I don’t even remember seeing either of these guys on the ice in the second period. It is unacceptable for these guys to be playing so few minutes in a game against lowly Winnipeg that the team ended up winning by three goals. Once Anton Stralman is ready, I suspect he will be in lineup.