The New York Rangers played the game they were supposed to play on Tuesday against the Islanders tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning, beating the Bolts 5-2. New York played smarter, calmer hockey and pulled out a good win. Since I don't have a lot of time, let's get into it:
*Aaron Voros just can't fight. He stayed in his battle against Ryan Malone and even got in a good punch or two but it looked like he was trying to wrestle while Malone was trying to fight. Voros is just not a goon. However, in the third period he pulled on a late Halloween costume and dressed as Sean Avery, driving Mike Smith crazy. He did it so well that it got to the point where Smith launched himself out of the crease and started fighting Voros late in the third period (with his mask on, like that's fair). Voros and the Rangers did well to harass the former Star in the first period, but pretty much gave him space in the second before getting back to the paint in the third. What is it with second periods and the Rangers???
*Smith, by the way, really should be backing up Ollie the Goalie, not vice versa. Not only did Smith buy the swamp land Chris Drury offered on his shorthanded breakaway, he moved there right away. Smith bought Drury's move like it was Malibu Stacey and the Ranger captain gave the team a 2-0 lead.
*Just four minutes later Martin St. Louis put Tampa on the board with what may have been one of the best goals of the season. I can't even describe it's awesomeness. Once I find it online, I will post a link. Wow, what a goal. And if there ever was an argument for the elimination of second assists, that goal was it. Marek Malik was awarded an assist despite having absolutely nothing to do with it.
*Well, since I had to bring Lurch up, he was beautifully terrible. He was beaten for a breakaway on the first shift of the game and continued to drown the rest of the night. As I mentioned yesterday, opposing teams have taken advantage of every penalty Malik has taken this season and the Rangers were able to do it in the third period, with Drury scoring his second of the game. Unfortunately the power play blew the 5-on-3 later in the frame but I won't address that now, I am trying to stay in a good mood.
*Sean Avery was completely right in saying that the league needs villains. Malik is one for me and he heard me yell "I still hate you Malik!" during warm ups - he turned around and looked. Woo ha! It was also great to hear the entire building boo the big man every time he touched the puck. What fun. We need more of that in this game, it has become waaaay too benign. But that is something for another time.
*The fourth line of Betts, Orr and Sjostrom were pinned deep in the Ranger end on three shifts in a row. To date they have played well with speed and energy so it isn't quite time to ring the alarm, but it is worth watching.
*Steve Stamkos, Tampa's first overall pick this year, is definitely worth watching. The youngster showed some sick moves and a good spark while not withering despite the Rangers playing physically on his. Stamkos will definitely not be another Crosby, but he will be quite good.
*Nik Zherdev already is quite good but he can be so, so much better. He needs to shoot more and realize that skating into four players is a bad idea - as evidenced by Scott Gomez, who does it all the time lately. Zherdev was played tough all night by Tampa and got a cross checking penalty after taking on an entire offensive line of Lightning. He bounced between the three of them and was punched the back of the head - twice - before finally getting loose and leaving a cross check. So apparently the punches to the head from behind were fair, but the cross check wasn't. The officiating in this league is so incredibly inconsistent that it is infuriating.
*I got home and threw on NHL on the Fly on the NHL Network. My timing proved to be fantastic as they got right into the game highlight. But the reason I mention it is because right after it was over, they pointed out that Tampa bad lost two in a row and then tossed to a break. The first commercial? Hockey Bay, Tampa Bay Lightning tickets as low as $15 ... awesome!
*As for the two players on the Rangers fighting for roster spots - Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha - both got around 12 minutes and Dawes stepped up his physical game but got no real chances and Prucha was virtually invisible. So was Brandon Dubinsky, which is quite a reversal from his start to the season but it is still early, he has time to gain some consistency.
*This was one of those games where the numbers lied. Tampa Bay had three more shots than New York (38-35) but the Rangers seemed to have more control of the game, even with their passing still not being anywhere close to where it should be.
*That is probably why I didn't include Henrik Lundqvist in my three stars. Hank was his usual stellar self, giving the Rangers a chance to win through big saves when needed. It is just business as usual at this point ...
*PHW Three Stars
3-Nik Zherdev - two assists.
2-Henrik Lundqvist - 36 saves.
1-Chris Drury - three goals.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Marek Malik - I missed you buddy! To keep a job in the NHL despite having misfortune after misfortune on the ice and not a tough bone in his 6'6, 240 pound frame is just awe-inspiring.
2-Ryan Callahan - My friend sent me a text after the game reiterating what I have been saying for weeks: Cally has been the best player on the team. The youngster is involved physically and is constantly involved in the play on both sides of the ice. It has been a pleasure watching him grow into Pat Verbeek; let's hope he can keep it up.
1-Chris Drury - Drury jumped all over his offensive chances and came down with a hat trick. The funny/scary thing is that he had been getting chances like these game after game after game but (outside of Long Island) couldn't bury them. He did tonight and led the Rangers to a much-needed win. And I just looked it up: the last time a Ranger had a hat trick was on January 7th, 2007 when Marty Straka scored all three Ranger goals in a 3-2 win over Philly.