On the night our national legislators finally came to an agreement to end the government shutdown, the New York Rangers walk into the Verizon Center and shutout the Washington Capitals 2-0 in an inspired team effort.
But, on Wednesday night, it was more than just the King doing a great job. These Rangers, for the most part, looked like a team that had committed to an identity. In some ways, they looked like Tortorella's Rangers - blocking shots, backchecking, and winning battles along the boards. But, these Rangers were much more aggressive on offense, especially in the second period - the best 20 minutes of hockey the team has played under head coach Alain Vigneault - so far. This was a team had clearly worked on how to break out of the defensive zone and transtion quickly into offense - something they've had a problem with for years and at least so far this season - until tonight.
The Rangers were tested in the first period when the team racked up a 5-on-3 disadvantage when defenseman Anton Stralman and forward Taylor Pyatt committed penalties. But, Lundqvist and the Ranger penalty kill units did a great job keeping the Caps off the board. And they had some luck. When it seemed Washington forward Joel Ward had a easy tap-in in the slot, Ward flubbed the shot and the Rangers escaped without allowing a goal. It seems the Rangers, who were already fired up from the start, had switched into another gear after the big penalty kill. Justin Falk, who was in the lineup replacing a flu-stricked Michael Del Zotto, showed his toughness when he dropped the gloves with Tom Wilson. The Rangers ended the period in a scoreless tie, but they had the edge in shots 11-8.
The second period would see the Rangers shift into an even higher gear. The momentum would grow even more after Washington's Eric Fehr took a penalty early in the second period. The Rangers kept the pressure on Washington defense and goaltender Braden Holtby. The Blueshirts outshot the Caps 21-6 in the second. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 21 shots were the most the Rangers have had in a single period since March 15, 2011.
This time, finally, the Rangers would have something to show for all that effort.
Defenseman John Moore has been known to show a decent slapshot, but it was his wrister that caught Holtby by surprise. A point shot from Ryan McDonagh went to the left of the net, hitting the endboards. Brad Richards was able to retrieve the puck and get it back out towards Moore, who had just cycled out of the corner towards the blue line. Moore went for a quick release on his wrister and his shot beat Holtby on the high glove side. At 12:05 of the second, the Rangers were up (on the road) 1-0.
One minute and 46 seconds later, the Rangers would add to the lead. As had been the case for most of the period (and really a good chunk of the game), the Blueshirts created opportunities by winning the battles on the boards and cycling in the zone. After McDonagh's point shot went went to the right of the net, Callahan got to the corner and cycled the puck back behind the net to Derick Brassard, who quickly passed the puck to the other corner and the stick of Richards. As Richards received the pass, Callahan made his way to the front of the net. Richards made the pass to the front of the net. As the Ranger captain made his way to front, out-skating Caps defenseman John Carlson and star forward Alexander Ovechkin, the puck deflected up in the air. But, it was low enough for Callahan to bat the puck in past Holtby and give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.
Despite the fact Washington outshot the Rangers 8-4 in the third, the 2-0 lead proved to be all the Rangers would need to end their three game losing streak. Lundqvist, Richards, and Callahan were the three stars of the game, but according to Pat Leonard of the NY Daily News, John Moore received the Broadway Hat from his teammates.
It was an important win for a team looking to get back on track after a rough road trip out West. Callahan is starting to heat up as he now has three goals on the year. Richards, who leads the team with four goals so far this season, earned assists on both Ranger goals. It would seem J.T. Miller had a strong game - his first since being called up from Hartford to replace Arron Asham. It would also seem Falk had a strong game from the blueline as well.
With the defensive effort put forth by the pairings on Wednesday, and with the effectiveness of John Moore on the power play, it will be interesting to see if the defense is just as effective when Del Zotto recovers from his flu. Will AV put Del Zotto back into the lineup or will he keep these pairings together for the sake of chemistry?
Now, it's just one game. But, the Rangers won't play against until Saturday when they head to Newark to face the New Jersey Devils. It's always good to have momentum going into a matchup with them. But, more importantly, the Rangers will have a couple days to rest and to get further acclimated with Vigneault's system. Since the Devils have yet to register a win this season, it's a great chance for the Blueshirts to really get going.
One more thing - as said on the Rangers post-game show on ESPN 98.7 - it should also be noted Ovechkin has been held scoreless in his last seven games against the Rangers, dating back to Game 1 of the Caps/Rangers playoff series last year. During this time, the winger has logged 33 shots on goal - none of them past King Henrik. On Wednesday night, Ovechkin was a -1 with eight shots on goal.
Overall, the Rangers have outscored the Capitals 8-0 in their last three meetings (including Game 6 and 7 of last year's playoffs).