NEW YORK – With their top – well most expensive – players on the shelf, the Rangers had a call from coach John Tortorella. Are they a team that relies too much on their stars or will they young Rangers accept the team concept and make everyone forget the names of Marion Gaborik and Chris Drury?
Three games later, the Blueshirts apparently have an answer, as they have worked as a team over the past week to give them three wins on the board and frankly, in impressive fashion.
They block shots. They move the puck. They keep play in the other team’s zone. And in the case of tonight’s 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, they win the tough division matchups against a desperate squad.
“That was the mindset before the game,” said forward Sean Avery, who has played very well this season. “These two other games don’t really mean much if we come out and stink up the joint. We’re trying to model ourselves after a team that wins. And that’s winning three, four, five games in a row, not just two.”
Added Tortorella: “We have talked a lot about trying to continue to create an identity on how we are going to play as a team and along the way when you are trying to build that you get some wins. I think that it’s an easier sell as far as what we want to do as a hockey club, how we are going to play the game so hopefully we will continue. You go through the momentums and there will be some down times and you just have to grab a hold of it and remember what we are as a hockey club. We are really concentrating on that as far as the things we need to do to create our identity.”
The key to this current Ranger run has been the step-up play of Tortorella’s new top line of Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky. All three hold a lot of potential, but with a few years in the league under their belts it’s time to take their games to the next level. And all three have responded.
In Toronto and Boston, Anisimov scored key goals and tonight it was his linemates time to shine. Callahan had the winning goal in the second thanks to some strong play in front of the net play over Martin Brodeur, while Dubinsky, according to Tortorella, played his best game of the season, capping it off with the open netter at the end of the game.
“The continued conversations we had in practice and games, it keeps all three of our confidence levels high,” Dubinsky said. “Knowing that we go out and if we do the things and put the effort in as a line, have the skill and ability to be successful, if it’s coupled with hard work.”
All three say this success would have happened on a full Ranger squad, but you have to wonder if the Tortorella meritocracy where veterans get somewhat of a benefit of the doubt while young players have to prove more, would have allowed the Rangers’ “Draft” Line (all three Rangers came to the team through the draft) to shine so early in the season.
Further that with their ability to play two-way hockey, something usually reserved for Drury and you can see why Anisimov, Dubinsky and Callahan are excelling early on.
“We knew coming in that we needed to have a big year,” Callahan said. “Losing those guys is tough, but it put a little bit more responsibility on us and it seems like we have taken off.”
All of this means, the Rangers should be even better when the trio of Drury, Gaborik and Prospal come back in about a six weeks and as of right now, the team seems to be in pretty good hands.
Notes: New York is now 14-5-2 vs. the Devils since the start of the 2007-08 season, including a 8-2-1 mark at MSG during the stretch…Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves to improve to 3-2-1 on the season, including a 1-1-1 mark at home. Lundqvist is now 19-7-5 with a 1.89 goals against average, .934 save percentage and four shutouts in 31 career regular season appearances vs. New Jersey…After a scoreless first period, Michal Rozsival opened the game’s scoring with an even strength goal at 1:26 of the middle frame, and added a power play assist on Callahan’s game winning goal. Rozsival extended his scoring streak to three games, registering four points (one goal and three assists) over the span. He leads all team defensemen in goals (two), assists (four) and points (six), and is tied for second on the team in points, ranks third in assists and is tied for fourth in goals.