How many people thought after watching the first period in last night’s New York Rangers game and thought here we go again? Seems like many did as the Rangers came back into Madison Square Garden after the holiday break the same way they went going in – disastrous. The Rangers were able to bounce back in the final forty minutes and defeat the Ottawa Senators 4-3.
A hockey game is sixty minutes but if you are a true Blueshirt fan, the first twenty minutes can spell disaster for the night ahead. It’s no secret the Rangers defense has been an issue for much of the season. We knew this going into the season that was the big question mark of the team. They exceeded expectations early but then came back to earth and showed how fragile the unit can be on the blue line.
It was however a defenseman that wound up scoring the game winner for the Rangers that completed a 3-1 deficit comeback. Nick Holden, yes the Nick Holden picked up two goals in the game and one of which the game winner. A sharp angle shot to get the team on the board in the faulty first period and then a wrap around in the third.
When the Rangers were down 2-0, and then eventually 3-1 after one, it was alternate captain Derek Stepan who stepped up vocally to try and get his team going. When asked post game about speaking to the team, Stepan went on to say, “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about the last two games. It’s so important to have good chatter on the bench and we had none of it, no emotion. I know our coaching staff really expects our leadership group to step up at times and in that moment, I felt that was a good time for me to step up and try to light a fire on somebody and try to turn things around and get people thinking the right way.”
What looked to be a Christmas dinner hangover turned into a huge two points for the Rangers as other teams continue to rack up wins within their division. The game had a little bit of everything including young Jimmy Vesey getting into a fight with Senators forward Matt Stone who took exception on a Vesey hit on former Ranger Derek Brassard.
Not only did Stepan stand up and yell at his team to wake up but he contributed with two goals of his own. His line in which he centers Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider has been a relatively consistent line and created much of the spark the Rangers were looking for.
No doubt the start was on the mind of coach Alain Vigneault but he felt confident within his group as the game went on. “There’s no doubt that (was) a worst-case scenario to how the game started. I think it says a lot about our group about staying with the process”, Vigneault went on to say.
“That’s a team that when they have a lead, they don’t give up a lot. Step’s line came up real big for us. I thought 5-on-5 and on the power play, they put some second and third efforts into some of their plays on the ice. Nick Holden without a doubt from our defensive group, not just because he scored the two goals, but his compete level to loose pucks, his battle level. And for me after giving up the first two goals on two shots, the way Antti responded. In the second period, they had some grade-A looks. He made the saves and gave us a chance to crawl back and fight back. We were able to get two points out of this game, so it says a lot about the resolve of this group.”
The game showed character within the Rangers. There were times when you sat there thinking if this team is tough enough as they were getting knocked around the first half only to have two of the “smaller” guys (Zuccarello and Vesey) knock some guys around. The game showed resiliency in a group who needs to grab as many points as they can.
Up next is a road trip to close out the 2016 calendar year in Arizona on Thursday and a New Year’s Eve battle with the Avalanche. Those are two games the Rangers should get points in given the struggle both teams have been under. If the Rangers can build off this character win, then it should be no problem but when you look at the big picture, there is still a lot of hockey to be played and a lot of character left in this team to prove why they are among the top.
Ryan McDonagh established a single-game career-high with three assists and tied a single-game career-high with three points while skating in a team-high 27:21 of ice time.
Nick Holden tied a single-game career-high with two goals, registered the game-winning goal, and posted a plus-one rating in 21:23 of ice time. Holden posted a multi-goal game for the third time in his NHL career and for the first time since Mar. 2, 2014, when he was a member of the Colorado Avalanche.