Anyone who thought the new faces on both sides would lead to a kinder, gentler rivalry between the Rangers and Devils was in for a rude awakening last night as the two teams treated fans to a battle full of physical play, post whistle animosity and as expected, exciting moments on both ends.
In a game that began with the Blueshirts looking like they were still on cloud nine from their impressive spanking of Ottawa saturday night at home, The Devils controlled play early, running the Rangers all over the Prudential Center ice and quickly grabbing a 1-0 lead on a goal by Rob Neidermayer. Coach Torts looked like his head was about to explode when he called a timeout less than a minute later and let his team know that this kind of effort was unacceptable on this or any night. The Rangers and rookie Michael Del Zotto heard Torts loud and clear and tied the score shortly thereafter on the power play (no that’s not a typo…the power play actually scored a goal). The Rangers would get another power play tally from Ales Kotalik late in the first that evened the score at 2-2 following an earlier goal by Devils’ emerging star Travis Zajac.
The second period was pretty even in terms of carrying the play and scoring chances for both teams until the other rookie on the Rangers’ blueline Matt Gilroy scored his first career goal off a pass from Marian Gaborik and gave the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish, thanks to the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist in the third period.
Both Del Zotto and Gilroy acquitted themselves well in this contest and while both have some things to work on defensively, they have shown that the offensive skills they bring to the team will make an impact often throughout this season. It’s still too early to know whether Del Zotto will remain with the team past his 9 game deadline but with each performance like last night’s his chances of sticking around improve.
Once again, the line of Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal and Gaborik was the best on the ice for both teams and Prospal stepped up with two assists including one on Gilroy’s game winner. The biggest question is which of the other lines will be affected once Sean Avery returns. The most likely to see a change is the third line as Enver Lisin might be the odd man out due to his defensive shortcomings. We will have to wait and see how that situation shakes out.
The Rangers got the victory in what was an uneven performance and hopefully learned a lesson about how this team can not afford to be overconfident at all during this season. The Eastern Conference and especially the Atlantic Division (Pittsburgh and the Flyers have been very impressive so far) look very strong early on and no team can afford to give away points by laying an egg in a division game. Let’s hope coach Torts’ message during his early timeout last night is something the Rangers’ players, from top to bottom, do not forget anytime soon.