The Rangers walked into Washington, D.C. a wounded group without their top offensive player in Marian Gaborik and their top defender in All-Star Marc Staal and for one night at least they did not miss either one. New York would embarrass the Capitals for the second time this season with a 6-0 laugher that should make the Rangers feel good, but hopefully not satisfied as they have to bring this effort again on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Having Henrik Lundqvist playing in top form certainly helped the result tonight as his made 35 saves, some of the gorgeous variety, en route to his league leading eighth shutout.
The bigger worry coming in than Gaborik being out as the Rangers have faced that before this season was how they would do without their defensive stud. The loss of Staal meant that Ryan McDonagh would have to take on the challenge of facing Alex Ovehckin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble and McDonagh did it beautifully. The reaction of McDonagh to the assignment was the same as it has been to everything in his 22 games as an NHL player, to just play his game and show he has the strength and poise of a ten year veteran.
On the offensive side the night would belong to an unusual suspect in Erik Christensen. There has never been a debate about the talent that Christensen possesses, but that talent is also the source of much frustration in that he fails so often to exercise it. Tonight was one of those nights where he let the talent show as he scored a career high four points including two goals and two assists. If Christensen did this more often, then the Rangers would not need more offense, but since he doesn’t all I could think to myself with each passing point was how it increased his trade value and Glen Sather should sell high.
New York struck first at 5:56 of the first period when Steve Eminger beat Neuvirth from the right point with the help off a Capitals deflection. Earlier in the shift Mike Green cross-checked Derek Stepan behind the net, but no call was made. As play continued the puck went back to the corner where Derek Stepan hit Mike Green in the head and there is going to be controversy here. On the live look it appeared he hit him with his elbow, but I did not see that on the replay. Regardless there is head contact and discussion of whether he will get suspended. Check out the video and discussion here.
The Rangers did not let off the gas this time as late in the first Erik Christensen scored his first goal since returning to the lineup from his injury. The goal itself was really a tap-in for Christensen off a beautiful saucer pass feed from Michael Sauer. The goal was Christensen’s seventh of the season and the beginning of a huge night for the talented but inconsistent forward.
Just like the first period the Rangers struck early and then late. Christensen was the culprit again this time with the early goal in the second period, this time on the power play on a beautiful passing play by the Rangers. Prospal worked the puck along the boards, feed it down low to Callahan at the left side of the net and he threw a behind the back pass to Christensen on the other side to shoot into an open net.
The goal to close the period came from Derek Stepan and gave the Rangers their second on the power play. This play was purely the work of beautiful puck movement and a shot/pass from Del Zotto that missed the net, nothing new there, but this time the bounce came to Stepan and he roofed it on a prone Neuvirth.
Third period thankfully saw more of the same with Vinny Prospal getting in on the act 6:16 in with his third of the season. Like with all Prospal goals the celebration is equivalent to winning the Stanley Cup, but that is the enthusiasm you love about Prospal. Christensen picked up the primary assist on the goal to give him his third point of the game.
The Rangers rubbed some salt in the wound with a goal by Brian Boyle with 33.7 seconds left in the game. The goal was Boyle’s 20th of the season and came off a gorgeous backhand pass from that Christensen fella to give him a career high four point night
- Stepan was the most visible forward tonight other than Christensen with his willingness to play a physical game. We shall see if he gets disciplined for the play with Mike Green, but he plays better when he is physical.
- Michael Sauer was also phenomenal in this game as he continues to improve on an already stellar season.
- Del Zotto, Eminger and Gilroy were all solid tonight, which might give New York enough confidence to not feel the need to bring in another defender, at least not an expensive one.
- Ruslan Fedotenko would have to leave his first game back from shoulder/appendectomy caused absence with an injury to that same shoulder.