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Hank Blanks Habs as Ranger D gets an A!

Marc Weissman

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What a difference a night makes, eh? Just 24 hours after getting absolutely shelled by the Maple Leafs for 5 goals against in the 1st period alone, the rejuvenated Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist shook it off and turned in a big-time performance, shutting out the visiting Montreal Canadiens, 2-0, in front of a raucous October crowd at Madison Square Garden Sunday night. Lundqvist made 34 saves, several of the spectacular variety, to post his first shutout of the season and a Ranger-record 62nd blanking of his storied NHL career on Broadway. 2nd year D-man Brady Skjei came away with the fortuitous game-winner when his sharp angle pass intended for Michael Grabner caromed off Habs goaltender Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber late in the first period to give the Blueshirts a lead they never relinquished. Meanwhile, $5.4M man Mika Zibanejad – now 2nd in the NHL in goals (4) and 1st in PPGs (3) – continued his amped-up play as the team’s new #1 center by snapping home a beautiful behind-the-net pass from sophomore linemate Pavel Buchnevich to seal the win in the 3rd period.

Things didn’t start out all happy happy joy joy for the Rangers after being raked by the Leafs. Montreal dominated the first 10 minutes, out-hustling and out-chancing New York from the get-go. However, the difference in this game was Lundqvist was much sharper, the Rangers didn’t buckle under the relentless Canadiens’ forecheck and New York benefited from not one but TWO favorable video review calls in the first period. Head Coach Alain Vigneault and newly-hired Assistant D-coach Lindy Ruff also made several line-up changes following their team’s pond hockey match in Toronto. Defenseman Brendan Smith, who struggled mightily against the Leafs, was scratched in favor of Nick Holden and Steve Kampfer, both of whom responded with solid, physical defensive games. Meanwhile, newly acquired D-man Tony D’Angelo remained in the lineup despite an egregious unforced giveaway that led to a Leafs’ goal – although Tony only saw 3 minutes of ice time versus the Habs. So the Rangers went with 7 D-men: much-improved Marc Staal paired with Captain Ryan McDonagh, Sjkei and Kevin Shattenkirk as the 2nd pair and the other 3 D-men rotating in the 2 bottom spots. Up front, rookie Filip Chytil – who’s seen minimal ice time so far this season – was scratched, thus leaving 11 forwards on the roster with Alternate Captain Mats Zuccarello double-shifting.

As for the video reviews, the first one was fairly obvious. First, Habs pest Andrew Shaw poked the puck out from under Lundqvist’s glove as Henrik attempted to stop play. But with Shaw’s stick tied up, he could only kick the puck with his skate into the crease where it banked in off a bevy of other skates and possibly the Ranger goaltender as well. Ultimately, it was deemed a distinct kicking motion was used: No Goal! The 2nd review occurred soon after but was less definitive. Weber’s right point shot was stopped by Lundqvist, but the rebound banked in off both Canadien Max Pacioretty and McDonagh who were battling for position right above the blue paint. Pacioretty clearly made contact with Lundqvist, knocking him over as the puck went in. The questions were: did McDonagh push Pacioretty into Lundqvist and/or did the Habs forward make a reasonable attempt to avoid contact with the Ranger goaltender? Several video angles showed neither scenario to be the case, so the play was ruled goaltender interference: No goal!…again.

Perhaps inspired by their good fortune from the Toronto War Room, the Rangers – and especially Henrik Lundqvist – elevated their game significantly after the successful GI call. Midway thru the 2nd, Lundqvist made a phenomenal glove save on Montreal’s Artturi Lehkonen, fighting off a tough wrister from the slot. That save was a perfect example of how on top of his game Henrik was. A similar shot by the Leafs had zinged past him the night before. But Sunday, the King said otherwise. The other noticeable difference in Hank’s game was his rebound control. While he did struggle a bit with the Canadiens’ first-shot attempts early on, as the game progressed you could see Henrik’s confidence building and building with shots being gobbled up or directed out of harm’s way. And while not known for his puck-handling abilities – as opposed to his Montreal counterpart at the other end – Lundqvist handed off pucks to his D-men with poise and fired the puck with authority around the boards and out during the PK.

Speaking of special teams, New York – the NHL’s 3rd best with the man-advantage – uncharacteristically went 0-for-3 on the PP, but they did kill off the one and only penalty they took all game long, more evidence of their much-improved discipline. Rick Nash also became a force to be reckoned with, teaming with center JT Miller to generate several grade A chances in the first period. And in the second, #61 received a gorgeous between-the-skates pass from DeAngelo but was robbed by Price’s right skate in tight. The Rangers’ also picked up their physical play as the game moved along. Zuccarello delivered a thundering hip check on the much-deserved Habs’ Brendan Gallagher while Shattenkirk, not known for physical play, leveled his fair share of booming hits on the opposition. It was refreshing to see the Rangers rediscover their physicality since that aspect helped them eliminate the Canadiens during the teams’ 1st round match-up last spring.

Early in the 3rd period, Lundqvist continued his stellar performance, first robbing Pacioretty on a breakaway and then, despite having lost his goal stick, still acrobatically stopping the Montreal captain on the rebound to keep the Canadiens off the board. Chants of “HEN-RIK!…HEN-RIK!!” reverberated inside “The World’s Most Famous Arena” from those two spectacular saves….just as they did throughout the night and when the final buzzer sounded.

The Rangers first win of the season was a solid, team victory from top to bottom with Lundqvist being named the game’s #1 star AND winner of the coveted Broadway Hat. Hopefully New York can build on this when they face Shattenkirk’s former team, the St. Louis Blues, on Tuesday night.

 

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Posted on October 10, 2017, in Game Recaps and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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