NEW YORK – In case you were wondering, Henrik Lundqvist didn’t ask Santa Claus for a shutout for Christmas.
“No I didn’t,” he said with a smile on his face after the Rangers 3-0 win over the Islanders at Madison Square Garden. “I asked for other things.”
And first place in a conference is no Christmas gift for coach John Tortorella.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” Tortorella said. “How many games did we play? We haven’t even gone halfway through the year. A key component of our mindset is take it one game at a time.”
Ok, maybe Tortorella will ask for that from the Easter Bunny, but make no mistake, the Rangers weren’t in the giving mood last night against their rivals from the Island, especially Lundqvist who was playing Grinch with the score.
“Hank made some really good saves tonight, but for some periods of the game we turned the puck over and didn’t do our job getting the puck out, we defended hard too,” Tortorella said. “We blocked a lot of shots and everyone is contributing there. I think we have done a pretty good job of not relying always on our goalie. I think our team is better and getting better that way, but it is certainly nice to have a guy like [Henrik Lundqvist] and Marty Biron.”
The fact is the Rangers looked a little rusty in this game, as they came back from their two day Christmas hiatus. There was some sloppy play and half way through, they killed they momentum in the second as the club took some bad penalties, helping the give the Islanders an edge. At one point midway through the second the Islanders only had seven shots and then went on a run for 10 with the King denying all requests.
And that allowed the Rangers to be opportunistic with Carl Hagelin scoring two goals thanks to dome great setups by Michael Del Zotto.
“I think we played pretty good today,” Hagelin said. “Maybe not the best first period but then in the second we created some chances, and in the third we had a good run. We’re getting better each day. Both of those goals were just me kind of coasting towards the net while the other guys were doing a good job. I came in late and found the puck.”
More importantly, the playmaking of Del Zotto is something the Rangers have not had on the blue line in years, with 17 assists and a plus-25, he is looking like Brian Leetch out there on the ice, softening the blow of the defensive losses.
“That’s one thing I worked on in the offseason – just being mentally ready and working on the mental side of the game. I know what I can do on the ice and what type of player I am. It’s just a matter of believing in myself and making sure my confidence stays there every day.”
Speaking of the defense, Stu Bickel received a nice shiner on his right eye thanks to Michael Haley, who tried to fire up his team by mixing it up with the big defenseman 2:20 into the game.
“I got these before,” Bickel said. “He wanted to mix it up, so there wasn’t much you can do.”
And there wasn’t anything else for the Islanders, who couldn’t break the Lundqvist wall. The Blueshirts have now won five straight and the go on the road for the next three game, including the Winter Classic in Philly next Monday.
Notes: Marion Gaborik got his league leading 22nd goal of the season with an empty netter late in the third…Marc Staal has been cleared for contract in practice, with the Rangers hoping for him to be ready early in January. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this was the right thing to do,” Staal said. “I still need some more work. I don’t feel as if I’m ready to play 25 minutes a night like I was last year again. It’s coming along a lot better. I feel a lot stronger on the ice and it’s starting to come. But it’s not where it needs to be yet.”