In their most impressive performance so far this young season, The Rangers employed a stifling first period forecheck to jump out to an early lead and a dominating third period to absolutely hammer the visting Maple Leafs 7-2 at the Garden. The Blueshirts fifth straight victory has the club now sitting alone atop the eastern conference standings. From the get go tonight, Ryan Callahan and Chris Drury hounded the Leafs in their own zone and once Callahan scored the Rangers’ first goal at 2:34 of the first period the rout was on. Wade Redden gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with a sharp angle blast six minutes later. The Leafs would pull to 2-1 with a late goal off a scrum in front of Henrik Lundqvist by Alexei Ponikarovsky.
The second period began with the Leafs finding their legs and playing a much more physical game than the Rangers but a quick score by Dan Girardi gave the Blueshirts another 2 goal cushion. The Leafs would not go quietly as pesky forward Jason Blake would score late to bring the Leafs back within a goal.
I’m sure Torts was not happy with the Rangers intensity in the second and let them know between periods as the team just exploded in the third to put the game out of reach. After Sean Avery put in a backhand past Vesa Toskala that was the result of some very strong work down low by Avery and the impressive Artem Anisimov, Marian Gaborik extended his own six game scoring streak one minute and 21 seconds later cashing in a rebound to give the Rangers a 5-2 lead. Henrik Lundqvist would then close the door on the overmatched Leafs and late goals by Girardi (his third goal in the last two games) and Avery (on the rejuvenated power play) put an exclamation point on a dominating performance.
Thumbs Up- Wade Redden (who had a goal and two assists tonight) is playing his best hockey since joining the Rangers last season. Chris Drury has definitely lived up to his preseason mantra of “just shut up and play” as the Captain has been a force at both ends during the five game winning streak. Artem Anisimov seems to get better each game and is showing a confidence not often seen from Rangers’ rookies of the past. The entire Rangers defense (which contributed 3 goals and 2 assists tonight) has played wonderfully and has really bought into the attacking system put in place by Torts. Henrik Lundqvist had another solid outing (despite a soft goal by Jason Blake) and showed some toughness after being run into 3 times by the Leafs.
Thumbs Down- Very tough to find any flaws in tonight’s performance but Donald Brashear a.k.a “Huggy Bear” (who did fight former Ranger Colton Orr to a draw in the first period) really needs to make his presence felt in a game where the opposition takes three unprovoked runs at Henrik Lundqvist. The Reason he was brought in by Glen Sather was to stick up for his teammates and so far he hasn’t lived up to the billing as protector of the “skill” players. The Christopher Higgins goal watch is now at 6 games and counting….
Three Stars- 3- Wade Redden- The focus of venom from Blueshirts fans all of last season and most of the offseason is finally playing the kind of hockey we all saw him play for years as a member of the Ottawa Senators. His strong, relaxed play in his own zone has allowed rookie Matt Gilroy to take some chances while getting acclimated to the NHL game and his renewed offensive output could be a huge boost for the Rangers should he be able to keep this early momentum going as the season wears on. He is still not a $6 million dollar a year player but if he keeps playing the way he has, his salary will be the last thing on the minds of the Garden faithful.
2- Sean Avery- The super pest showed once again why the Rangers are a much better team with him in the lineup. His goal early in the third pretty much broke the spirit of the Leafs and his hard work in the offensive zone throughout the game led to many scoring chances for his teammates. Avery has now had two very strong performances since his return from a knee injury that caused him to miss the first four games. Let’s hope Sean keeps up this smart but energetic play and doesn’t get caught up in the outside stimuli that has sidetracked his very effective style in the past.
1- Dan Girardi- Like Avery, Girardi had his second straight impressive performance. The player who had coach Tortorella worried following camp has more than proved he is ready to join partner Marc Staal in elevating their games to the next level. His confidence at the offensive end is at an all time high and his play is his own zone has been nothing short of excellent this season. His two goals tonight may even earn him some power play time in the near future. It’s great to see Girardi really coming into his own after his play had slipped some towards the end of last season and this could be a very exciting season for the steadily improving blue liner.
The Rangers next contest is against the Los Angeles Kings on wednesday night 7 pm at MSG.