I did go with the simple title because Stepan-Out and any other poor puns surely will be overused after the kid's performance. What can you say? For all of the hype that came with him from college and the world juniors, Stepan really blew the doors off in his debut. He showed a wonderful array of skill on his way to a hat trick, one post away from a foursome. Woa baby.
As I asked on Twitter, "how does one contain excitement over a rookie who nearly scores 4 goals in his debut?" After a bit of contemplation, I decided what I said in an earlier tweet held true: responding to Jim Cerny's factoid that 'Stepan is first rookie to score a Hat Trick in NHL debut since Fabian Brunnstrom of Dallas in 08' I wrote "and look at Barnstormer now..." One game does not a career make, so let's enjoy the moment, share in his mom's beaming pride and wait and see before passing any kind of judgement.
The same should go for the entire team so I will try to stick to observations ... yeah right:
*Stop me if this sounds familiar: the Rangers start hot - dominate even - then let their opponent back into the action before a fervent finish. The Blueshirts did that in many, many games in the past and that also pretty much sums up their last few seasons.
*And it is tough to be giddy about the game, or even the outrageous start, when the opponent was just so completely crappy (I think that is the professional term). Buffalo was a step slow and completely disorganized. Ryan Miller gave up some bad goals but he was clearly the last line of defense behind a tired collection of mediocrity. Their Calder kid from last season, Tyler Myers, suddenly turned into Eric Cairns. He was lumbering around, falling all over himself and helped the Ranger cause immeasurably both with his turnovers and the confidence it gave the Rangers. Lindy Ruff must have reigned hellfire in the locker room during both intermissions as the Sabres stepped up their play each time. When they started getting physical, they started doing better.
*The physical Rangers - the fourth liners - weren't particularly impressive at all. We got some soso work from Boyle and Prust killing penalties and the expected six minutes of nothing from Boogaard. Zenon Konopka didn't fight against Dallas tonight so the likelihood of a tilt between the two on Monday went up just a notch. But only a notch because things are setting up for a Boogaard/Orr battle at the home opener that will define the Boogeyman's Ranger career, much the way Brashear's bout with Colt did.
*My opinion of Ruslan Fedotenko also went up. He was pointless in the game but his energy level carried over from the preseason when he was fighting for his NHL career. Feds and Avery were both stellar and easily outshined the duo of Frolov and Gaborik.
*Frankly, I didn't notice Mike Sauer at all. And that is terrific. That is exactly what we want from him - solid, steady, capable and quiet defending. Steve Eminger, on the other hand was all too noticeable. Eminger took two bad penalties, was weak along the boards and I even spotted him backing down and away from Nathan Gerbe - a player eight inches smaller.
*MDZ was far better in the Ranger end than he was during preseason. He chased a few hits but his positioning was definitely improved - which is all I asked for. The kid has to play both ends of the ice.
*The other Ranger I voiced my concern about, Arty Anisimov, wasn't any better than I expected but he wasn't any worse. Arty's timing and offensive instincts are good but he is still all too soft, he still can be intimidated physically and he still can't put all of his skills together at once. It may come together one day, but it isn't there yet.
*Joe Micheletti is just plain difficult to listen to and his obsession with Dubi's kiss to Stepan's visor was just a little disturbing. But I have to give credit where due and his observation that Paul Gaustad getting kicked out of the faceoff circle led to Dubi's empty netter was spot on.
*Dubi and Cally played their games and did it well. They hustled and they got results. At what point does Torts bequeath an A for Dubi's sweater? Since Sean is certainly not going to get it, Dubi is quite deserving and he is a home-grown guy. Better him than a mercenary like Prospal (if/when he comes back).
*Speaking of lettermen, Chris Drury was not particularly missed and do you think it was any kind of coincidence that immediately after the MSG staff starts talking about him Buffalo scored? I'm too superstitious to let that one go anytime soon...
*Now the Rangers probably put the 85th anniversary patch up on the shoulder because of the cut of the Reebok jersey but it is still interesting that it is in the same place where they had put the '94 Cup patch. It leaves the left chest open, making the captains' letters that much more special.
*Hank allowed three goals on 36 shots. He is still quick to drop into the butterfly, allowing one of Leopold's shots in up high. That isn't troubling - that the Rangers allowed 36 shots to a team like Buffalo is. The Sabres are far from an offensive powerhouse; what will happen when Washington comes to town? Are we going to see Lundqvist do a Denis Lemieux confused collapse into his own locker?
*PHW Three Stars
3-Dan Girardi - two assists.
2-Jordan Leopold - two goals and one assist.
1-Derek Stepan - three goals.
Scotty Hockey Three Stars
3-Leopold - While his goals weren't particularly impressive, the Sabre defender did what he was supposed to do - throw the puck at the net and make something happen.
2-Avery - Talk about making something happen ... Avery showed that he can be a perfectly competent player when he reins in his emotions and just goes to work. This wasn't Sean riding the razor's edge with borderline actions; this was Avery's energy level and physicality making room for his linemates. Speaking of which ...
1-Stepan - If he never plays another game it will still be magical - a kid plays his first game, has his mom in the crowd and puts up a hat trick. Outstanding. But yeah, let's hope he saved some goals for the rest of the season.