The Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 4-1 at MSG on Sunday night. The win was the Blueshirts’ third in a row and sixth in the past seven games. The team has been on a tear since an ugly 5-3 loss at home to the Islanders on December 20th, going 11-3-1 in its past 15 contests. It is no coincidence that Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist’s elevated play has the Rangers playing their best hockey all season.
Nash single-handedly gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead in the first period. Just 1:10 into the game, Nash intercepted a lazy defensive-zone pass by Orlov and finished smoothly on the backhand. Later in the first, Nash snuck a wrister through Grubauer’s legs on a 5-on-3, giving the Rangers a commanding 2-0 lead. The two goals helped raise Nash’s season total to 14, which leads the Rangers. He has seven goals in eight games and has really picked up his game since being announced to the Canadian Olympic team.
Lundqvist made the start and had 24 saves on 25 shots. It was his sixth straight game of allowing two or fewer goals, which has Rangers fans breathing a collective sigh of relief. We have finally returned to a point where Lundqvist is playing like vintage Lundqvist and excellence is expected out of him on a nightly basis.
The Rangers have finally reached a point where they look comfortable at both ends of the ice. Early in the year we saw some sparks of great offense, but it was awfully inconsistent. Now, as the players have become more comfortable with Vigneault’s system, we see a complete team from offense to defense.
During the Rangers recent hot stretch, they have found line combinations that have really been working. In previous years (during Tortorella’s tenure), we were so used to lines being shuffled for each game. Now, Vigneault has kept four lines together for a few weeks and the chemistry is showing. Of course, the lack of injuries has helped the team greatly. The four lines are as follows:Nash-Stepan-Kreider Hagelin-Richards-Callahan Zuccarello-Brassard-Pouliot Moore-Boyle-Carcillo
These line combinations really give the Rangers three lines that can make an offensive impact. As Rangers fans, we were used to a team that usually had one line playing well offensively. Sometimes we were even treated to two lines playing well. Now we have three lines that can put together top line performances on any given night. In addition, the fourth line has played better with the addition of Carcillo, as he gives them more skill.
My favorite line has to be the third line of Zuccarello-Brassard-Pouliot. When these guys get possession of the puck on offense they are almost always dangerous, especially on the power play. All three guys have remarkable skill and compliment each other’s games well.
It has been an exciting few weeks to be a Rangers fan. After an ugly start, the team has really come together and played some of its most entertaining hockey. At 27-21-3, the Rangers are second in the tightly competitive Metropolitan division. This is no time to start celebrating, as the rest of the season is going to be a dogfight. The Rangers have nine more games before the Olympic break, and hopefully they continue to play hard and effectively. The next game is Tuesday at MSG vs. the recently improved Islanders.