It’s about time!
Coming out of the three-day Christmas break there was speculation as to what kind of game the Rangers would play.
Especially since they had lost two-straight going into the holiday; generally looking overwhelmed by their opponents.
Then the Rangers had their standard morning skate and all of a sudden the “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” were out in full force — even though it’s Wednesday.
The announcement that Ondrej Pavelec would start and that this had been the coaching staff’s plan all along did not sit well with many people.
Along with the announcement about Pavelec, the Blueshirts debuted several new line combinations and defense pairings.
Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello were joining Mika ZIbanejad on the top-line. Chris Kreider, David Desharnais and Jimmy Vesey would construct the second-line.
An old favorite from last season was reunited (Michael Grabner-Kevin Hayes-J.T. Miller).
And what outraged fans most of all, was that Pavel Buchnevich was playing with Paul Carey and Boo Nieves on the fourth-line.
For good measure, Marc Staal and Brady Skjei formed the new second defense pairing; while Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith comprised the third-pair.
People far and wide said these new lines and pairs wouldn’t work; and then they did.
The Blueshirts got off to their best start in several games. And although they didn’t score it’s the little things they did that made the difference.
Then came the monkey-wrench.
Chris Kreider departed the game having played just 5:04 of the first period. While many speculated that a trade was in the works, the news was actually worse.
The Rangers’ big power-forward suffered an undisclosed upper body injury and did not return. Coach Alain Vigneault said after the game that there was no word on his condition and that the team would know more tomorrow.
The 7th Avenue Skaters are already missing Jesper Fast and can ill-afford to lose another key cog of the lineup.
Predictably the Capitals pushed back in the second period but Ondrej Pavelec guarded his net as if it were Fort Knox.
A fast paced third period — perhaps the Rangers best period of the year — wasn’t enough to determine a winner, so the game went to overtime.
They say there’s nothing more exciting in hockey than three-on-three overtime. That may be true, but you should check with your cardiologist before being allowed to indulge yourself with hockey’s sudden-death period.
After the five-minute heart-attack ended sans a victor the teams went to the shootout.
Normally the shootout is even more of a heart-attack than the overtime period, but Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibanejad took care of business — each potting a goal — and when Pavelec stopped both T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin, the Blueshirts had their 1-0 victory.
BLUESHIRT BULLET POINTS
FRIENDLY CONFINES: Going back to October 26th the Blueshirts have secured at least a point in 14 of 16 home games. They lead the NHL in home points (33) and are tied for the league lead with 15 home victories.
SUBSTITUTE GOALIE: Ondrej Pavelec put on another stellar performance as he turned aside all 30 shots the Capitals directed his way; and two more for good measure in the shootout. It is his first shutout as a Ranger and going back to his start against the Penguins on December 5th he has stopped 115 of the 119 shots that have come his way. That’s a .966 save percentage!
PENALTY-KILL: Two-for-two on the penalty-kill tonight ups the Blueshirts’ streak of penalty killing success to an incredible 71 of 81. That’s an otherworldly 87.7% success rate.
HOW THE METRO WAS WON: The Rangers top the Metropolitan Division with a plus-14 rating against their divisional neighbors. The Blueshirts have also netted at least a point in nine of 13 Division matchups this season and are 5-1-1 in such contests since November 22nd.
The Rangers face Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings Friday (Dec. 29) at Little Caesars Arena. Game time: 7:30 p.m. ET. Broadcast: MSG Networks.
Alain Vigneault said it best: “We played a good first period. We played real fast. In the first 12 minutes I thought we had some good looks. They had a push in the second period and Pavs (Ondrej Pavelec) came up big. In the third, that could have been one of the best periods so far this year.”
Vigneault continued: “Our guys had chances. We had some real good looks. Their goaltender (Philipp Grubauer) made some real big saves and gave them a chance to get to overtime and the shootout. In the shootout Pavs made a couple of saves and we scored.”
Very accurate summation coach; thank you for your time.