New York Hockey: Michael Sauer
Conspicuously absent from that list?
Former top-four defenseman Michael Sauer.
The 25-year-old Sauer, who was shaping up to be a promising young player for the team's blue line, has not played since sustaining a concussion Dec. 5, 2011, after being rocked with a hard, clean hit from Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf.
Multiple sources told ESPNNewYork.com that Sauer is still experiencing lingering effects from the concussion and is not ready to return. Though the hope is still that he can eventually make a comeback, the Rangers' decision not to qualify him is a good indication that his playing career is in jeopardy.
The Rangers also did not qualify defenseman Jyri Niemi and forward Nick Palmieri. The team was not planning to qualify fellow restricted free agent Benn Ferriero, either. Ferriero was traded Sunday to acquire Falk from the Minnesota Wild.
"Gabby's fine," coach John Tortorella said. "He's been fine for awhile."
The 30-year-old sniper underwent shoulder surgery in June and spent much of the lockout rehabbing the injury, but is now ready to play. Gaborik, who led the team with 41 goals and 35 assists last season, was medically cleared in early December.
Michael Sauer has not been given the same clean bill of health, however.
The 24-year-old defenseman, who has not played since suffering a nasty concussion on December 5, 2011, will not be attending training camp, ESPNNewYork.com has learned.
In fact, the likelihood he will play at all during the 2013 season seems slim.
The Rangers do not expect to have him return this season, a source told ESPNNewYork.com
Eminger has been a solid depth defenseman for the Blueshirts for the past two seasons, although his 2011-12 campaign was shortened by injury.
The former first-round pick (12th overall, 2002) had two goals and three assists and an even plus/minus rating in 42 regular-season games for the Rangers this past season. He also appeared in four playoff contests.
Eminger's signing comes one day after head coach John Tortorella painted a grim picture of the health of young defenseman Michael Sauer, who has not played since suffering a concussion December 5.
Although the hit earned Ference a three-game suspension, McDonagh emerged sore, but relatively-unscathed. The 22-year-old, who has ably performed alongside Dan GIrardi all season, will play Tuesday against the Jets.
McDonagh said the biggest issue on the hit -- which came with less than two minutes to play in the overtime period -- was that he got the wind knocked out of him.
"It's nothing serious, which is really fortunate," McDonagh said.
McDonagh also said did not believe Ference intended to injure him on the play.
"It's a fast play. He's coming in there pretty fast. I've gone back for pucks like that numerous times in my career and, I didn't even realize 'til I watched the ruling video that he clips my skate. That's probably what put me off-balance a little bit. It wasn't intentional or anything like that," he said. "It was an unfortunate play and I'm fortunate that I wasn't seriously hurt."
Given the injuries the Rangers have sustained on the blue line already this season -- Marc Staal missed the first three months with a concussion, Michael Sauer has been sidelined for the past six weeks with one -- coach John Tortorella feels the team dodged a bullet.
Thrust into the top-pair role in Staal's absence for the first half, McDonagh is amidst a breakout season. The former first-round pick averages a whopping 25:18 minutes per game and has contributed four goals and 15 assists in 46 games this season.
"Obviously, Mac has put himself into a situation where he has played to that spot as a shut-down [defenseman], he's not just filling in. He's played to that spot, so that's really important for our team," Tortorella said.
Unfortunately for the 30-12-4 Rangers, the news on Sauer is not so good. After consecutive days of practice with the team last week, the 24-year-old has been shut down from on-ice and off-ice activity. He has not played since suffering the head injury on a hit from Toronto's Dion Phaneuf December 5.
"[Head trainer Jim Ramsay] backed him off. He hasn't really felt that great after a few days on the ice, so Rammer's backed him off and he's just going to go about his business with him," Tortorella said. "I'm just waiting for a "yes" or a "no" with him and right now, it's a "no."
Staal has been the cornerstone of a Rangers defensive corps that has spent three of the last four seasons ranked among the top six in the league as far as goals allowed average. He’s constantly matched against the opposition’s top forwards and, as his plus-14 career +/- rating indicates, he’s often successful.
With Staal out of the lineup, things change. And they change drastically.
The Rangers’ defensive depth will be tested. Ryan McDonagh will likely be paired with Dan Girardi as the team’s top unit. Michael Del Zotto, who was banished to Hartford last season to work out the kinks in his defensive game, will stick in the top four with a banged-up Michael Sauer. Steve Eminger will likely be paired with rookie Tim Erixon, who was recalled from Hartford earlier this week. And it’s not yet clear how waiver claim Jeff Woywitka fits into this picture.
None of that is to say those players can’t step up in Staal’s absence. Far from it. After all, a young and largely untested blue line carried the Rangers to the playoffs last season. Still, when your do-everything D-man goes down, it leads to a lot of changes. Suddenly guys slotted for second- and third-pair minutes are skating more minutes against better competition.
Last season the Rangers usually found scoring in a different way each game. But the constant was their solid defense, with Staal leading the way. Now that constant becomes a question mark. And it will be interesting to see how the Blueshirts answer in their first two games.
1. Spotlight on Richards: The Rangers were big winners in July when they lured coveted free agent Brad Richards to New York with a nine-year, $60 million deal. The addition of Richards gives them the dynamic first-line center they lacked last season -- someone who can be counted on to produce offensively and distribute the puck.
2. More from Gaborik: The team also hopes Richards can coax the most out of sniper Marian Gaborik, who is expected to flank him on the right wing. After a career season in 2009-10 -- 42 goals and 86 points -- the 29-year-old winger scored only 22 goals last season and was incredibly streaky. Ten of his goals were scored in three games, all against non-playoff teams. If the Rangers want to do damage in the playoffs, they need him to score -- when it counts.
3. Third defensive pairing: Defense was a strength for the Rangers last season, and given the youth on the back end, it will be for years to come. Top-pair defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were counted on to match up against opponents' top lines all year, and they had a tandem of solid young blue-liners behind them in Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer. Young defensemen Tim Erixon, Michael Del Zotto and 27-year-old Steve Eminger will battle for the fifth and sixth spots. Brendan Bell could also garner a look, although he will likely be used as a call-up guy from Hartford.
• C Brad Richards: The 31-year-old veteran will feel the burden of the monster contract he signed and the expectation that goes with it, but he's a proven scoring threat with a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé.
• LW Mike Rupp: the 6-5, 230 pound bruiser, who racked up 124 penalty minutes with Pittsburgh last season, will add size and toughness to the Rangers' fourth line. The 31-year-old former Devil will also be a high-character veteran presence in the room.
• D Tim Erixon: The Rangers traded for the 20-year-old Swedish defenseman in June in what might soon be regarded as a steal. As the son of former NHL'er Jan Erixon, Tim has a strong hockey IQ and the potential to be effective on the power play.
Ryan Bourque, son of NHL legend Ray Bourque, is likely to start the season with the team's AHL affiliate in Hartford, but the 20-year-old forward stood out among his peers and impressed many during a recent prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich.
By developing a strong group of young players and adding key free agents to complement that core, the Rangers have the talent and skill to be dangerous in the future. What remains to be seen is whether they can make the next stop now.
Sauer played 76 games last season and tallied 15 points for the Rangers. He had three goals and 12 assists while tallying a plus-20 rating in his time on the ice. The 23-year-old had the sixth-most hits among rookie defenseman and one assist in the playoffs. The rookie primarily played on the Rangers second defensive line, alongside Ryan McDonagh.
The Rangers selected Sauer in the second round of the 2005 draft with the 40th pick and he has played 79 games with the team, tallying 15 points.
Anisimov, 23, played in all 82 games with the Rangers and scored 18 goals and added 26 assists. He had career-highs in power play goals, power play assists and power play points. Anisimov has played in 164 straight games for the Rangers and scored his first playoff point this past year.
The Rangers selected Anisimov in the second round of the 2006 Draft and he has played in 165 career games with the Rangers, notching 72 points on 30 goals and 42 assists.
In international competition, Anisimov has represented Russia at tournaments, including the 2010 World Championship when he won a silver medal.
A Fast Start
This is a multi-stage note. If the Rangers can get out of the gates quickly with a goal or two, they can help rekindle some memories of past playoff nightmares for the Caps. Claim Game 1 in a lopsided manor and the Blueshirts can not only steal home-ice advantage from the East's top seed, but they can plant the seeds of doubt in a team and fan base that has experienced nothing but playoff disappointment since the franchise returned to prominence. It could also trigger a goalie controversy considering the Caps are still slightly torn on which netminder -- Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov -- should get the start. But even after the first goal the Rangers can't let up. The Caps own the league's best winning percentage when trailing after the first period at .489.
Green and Blue lines
Caps top D-man Mike Green is expected to dress for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Rangers on Feb. 25. Despite his high skill level, he's likely to be a little rusty as he tries to get back to game speed. Couple that with his turnover tendencies and the Rangers may be able to force a few giveaways if they can apply some pressure to him. On the other end of the ice, the Blueshirts blueliners aren't exactly drowning in playoff experience. This will be the first postseason for Matt Gilroy and rookies Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer. New York will certainly need them to play with the poise they've shown during the regular season to contain the Caps' multiple weapons.
Remember that handle? Chris Drury rekindled memories of it with his oh-so-timely goal to tie the score at 1 vs. the Devils in Game 82. How will he carry over that play to the postseason? It will be interesting to see if his ice time increases at all as the series progresses. I'd imagine that the Rangers would send him out a little more often in faceoff situations anyway. Drury is the team's best faceoff man and the Caps rate as a top-five team in the circle. The Rangers? 25th overall. In tight games where every draw (and ensuing shot) can make a difference, just winning a few key faceoffs may be Drury's biggest contribution, but it's one that should not be overlooked or undervalued.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Playoff experience isn’t high on Rangers coach John Tortorella's list of critical components for a playoff contender.
“The more guys without playoff experience the better as far as I’m concerned,” Tortorella said. “There’s not going to be a lot of explanation to them. We just want them to play. I think having innocence in these situations is very good for a hockey club.”
Luckily for Tortorella, he’s going to have more than enough players who have never skated in the NHL playoffs.
The Rangers have eight players on their roster who will be preparing to potentially make their playoff debut when the Blueshirts travel to face the top-seeded Capitals on Wednesday night. Most of the players will be counted on to play key roles for the Rangers and could help determine their fate.
“We just want to play hockey,” Rangers rookie forward Derek Stepan said. “Gotta go out and play our team concepts and do what we’ve done all year long. Obviously it’s going to be a little different that eight guys don’t know what it’s like yet, but I think we’ll be all right.”
The list of Rangers newcomers to the playoffs spans across all positions, including Stepan and fellow forwards Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle and Mats Zuccarello; defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Michael Sauer and Matt Gilroy; and goalie Chad Johnson.
Of that group, Stepan, Prust, Boyle, McDonagh and Sauer are the most active contributors and play key minutes, while Gilroy and Zuccarello could be healthy scratches in the playoffs and Johnson is the backup to Henrik Lundqvist.
Talk to the guys who have not played in the playoffs and the biggest thing that sticks out is their excitement. For some of the guys, like Stepan and McDonagh, they’re getting the chance in their rookie season. Others, like Boyle and Prust, have a few seasons under their belt.
“A lot of guys don’t have that experience but there are a lot of guys that do and I think the guys that don’t are going to be really excited and really hungry going out there,” Sauer said. “It’s something you dream about growing up, playing in the NHL playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup -- and this is the start of it and this is a stepping stone that we had to do and we got here. Now it’s a whole new season.”
In terms of preparation, the general consensus around the team is that the playoff noobies have to just jump in. They can ask around to the veterans for advice, but as Lundqvist said: “[The] playoffs [are] something you have to experience and learn for yourself.”
It’s that mentality that has Tortorella enthused about his newcomers heading into the quarterfinals. They all have a blank slate. They haven’t felt the pressure of being in those games before and don’t have to get caught up in the negatives. They can just go play hockey, as they did down the stretch when the Rangers could afford no breathing room.
“You don’t want to overthink anything,” McDonagh said. “You want to stay focused mentally and prepare yourself the same way you would for any other game. You don’t want to change anything up because it’s the playoffs. Same goes for our system and our structure that’s why we got here, because we’re detailed in those areas and we need to make sure we stick with that.”
The intensity of the stretch run was also valuable experience for the group of eight. The last two months of the season were essentially packed with playoff games for the Rangers -- although those games pale in comparison to the pressure that a single postseason game brings.
Just ask the Rangers coach.
“I think this is such a great opportunity for players,” Tortorella said. “This is where you get defined, in the playoffs. This is where teams get defined, players are defined.”
Wednesday night, that group of eight gets its first crack at greatness.
NEW SEASON FOR GABBY: The playoffs are called a second season, or a new season, for a reason. For Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, a clean slate is appreciated after a down regular season.
Now, it’s time for the Rangers’ sniper to try and find his groove.
“It’s big not just for myself but for everyone,” Gaborik said. “It’s a motivation and a challenge. I’m very excited for this opportunity we have and we have to grab it.”
After blasting 42 goals and tallying 44 assists last year in his first season with the Rangers, Gaborik struggled this year, tallying just 22 goals and 26 assists. He played 14 fewer games and struggled through portions of the season, getting benched amid long stretches without goals.
Tortorella said this season was a struggle for Gaborik, but said Gaborik has to look forward to this opportunity and “express himself as a player," which he believes Gaborik will do against Washington.
“I think Gabby cares,” Tortorella said. "If it’s one guy, it’s a great situation for him. You need to have a short-term memory and move on. You’re not defined by regular season play as a player, you’re defined as what you do in crucial situations and that’s playoff hockey. I know Gabby is willing to grab a hold and try to get this club to where it wants to be. That will go game to game, shift to shift with him.”
While he might have had a down season, Gaborik’s confidence in his team hasn’t taken a hit. He provided perhaps the only trash talking line by any Ranger, as tame and unintentional as it might’ve been.
“I don’t think [Washington] wanted to play against us. I think they would rather have played Carolina because they have a good record against them,” Gaborik said. “We have to be ready and make sure we play good defensively and make sure we know where their top guys are on the ice and create offense and make sure we get a lot of shots and create chances.”
GET SOME POWER: The Rangers power play isn’t blossoming heading into Game 1, as the Blueshirts went just 14-of-72 on the power play in their final 21 games. Finding ways to take advantage during a power play, while also limiting Washington’s advantages, will be important for the Rangers against the Capitals.
“Special teams are going to the key. We know we have to be disciplined,” Gaborik said. “They have a good power play and if we get on the power play -- we practiced it yesterday -- we know they are going to come out hard and be aggressive. So we need to move the puck quick and make sure we create chances and do the job.”
Tortorella said that he’s still working on the groupings for the power play, but did say that Gaborik could help the Rangers there if he finds his stride in the playoffs.
"[In the] playoffs, special teams is always a huge component of trying to win a series,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “I think it will be big. Coming up this week we obviously need to pay attention to defense in our zone and making sure we’re doing those things properly to try and give ourselves a chance to score.”
CHAMPIONSHIP RESUME: Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, said his coaching staff will try and be “guidance counselors."
Torts said he’s grown since '04 as that guidance counselor.
“This is a new team for me,” Tortorella said. “ I grew with that team in Tampa. I changed over the years with Tampa. ... If you’re still trying to teach the lessons and be the person that you were back then, it’s disrespectful to the players, so we’ve all grown together here and I think coaches have to go along with that as your players start growing as people and players.”
NO HINTS: Tortorella will not divulge any information about the lines or the roster spots for Wednesday’s game, but here were the lines (in no order) during practice Tuesday: Zuccarello-Chris Drury-Sean Avery-Erik Christensen; Gaborik-Artem Anisimov-Vinny Prospal; Stepan-Brandon Dubinsky-Ruslan Fedotenko; Prust-Boyle-Wojtek Wolski.
But following the Rangers 5-3 come-from-behind win against the Bruins Monday night, Tortorella became almost giddy about his team.
“I just like how we stuck to it and we showed (guts),” Tortorella said. “It was really good stuff.”
In one of their most impressive displays of resiliency, the Rangers from form behind against one of the best teams in the East in Boston and one of the best goalies in the league in Tim Thomas. As early as halfway through the second period, with Boston leading 3-0, the game seemed like a Boston rout and a bad loss for the Rangers considering they had shown little fight.
Finally, something clicked.
Vinny Prospal scored two goals in the second to slice the lead to 3-2 entering the third period. In the third, after grinding for more than 16 minutes, the Rangers tied the game on a goal by Brandon Dubinsky. Just 51 seconds later, Michael Sauer put the Rangers ahead. And in the final minute, with Thomas pulled, Derek Stepan sealed the game with an open net goal.
“It’s amazing to see how the guys kept working,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “We responded in a big way when we needed it most. Big credit to all guys who kept working hard. The third period has been big for us this year. To get that second goal going into the third period was huge for us. We didn’t panic, we didn’t stress. It was a great feeling.”
The Rangers also helped themselves immensely in their quest for a playoff spot. Had the Rangers lost, and Carolina won Wednesday vs. Detroit, the Rangers would’ve been tied for eighth place, but on the outside looking in because of tie-breaking scenarios.
Instead, the Rangers are now tied with Montreal for sixth in the conference, although the Canadiens have the tiebreaker, and one point ahead of Buffalo for the No. 7 seed. The Rangers are also four points ahead of Carolina and have trimmed their magic number down to three. Any combination of three Rangers points/points Carolina misses out on will result in a playoff spot.
Monday night could’ve been a game that led to the Rangers season ending early. Instead, it turned out to be a game that could be the defining moment of the season if they make the playoffs.
“We came up from being down three goals and made it 3-3,” forward Brian Boyle said. “You feel like you can accomplish something. When you give up three, the momentum is against you and you are vulnerable. Things starting to work in our favor. We just kept at it and we got the dirty goals we needed.”
Then, with less than three minutes left, Sauer, whose goals come few and far between, made the noise in the building reach a feverish pitch with the go-ahead score. He certainly noticed the fans showering him with love.
“That was unbelievable, I have never scored a goal and it’s got that loud, that’s for sure,” Sauer said. “The boys were excited and the fans were nuts and that’s what it’s all about, getting those two points.”
Sauer’s go-ahead goal proved to be the winning tally as the Rangers rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Bruins 5-3 Monday night at Madison Square Garden. Sauer, in his second year, scored the first goal of his young career at Madison Square Garden.
“It was (special) definitely in a big game like that,” Sauer said. “We got down early and we just we had to keep fighting and keep clawing back and we had to take it one period at a time and we won the second period which gave us a lot of confidence going into the third and we just knew if we kept pushing we’d get the tying goal and we kept pushing and kept going from there.
Coming into tonight’s game, Sauer had scored just two goals in his career, both on the road. As a defenseman, he’s not counted on to be an offensive spark plug for the Rangers, but he still didn’t know the feeling to hear all of Madison Square Garden cheering for him after a goal.
After the Rangers tied the game at 3-3, the Rangers kept pushing toward the Boston goal, trying to get the go-ahead goal in an unlikely rally. Sauer saw a battle for the puck behind the net so he closed in on the slot area to see if the puck might pop into his area. He went to the backdoor to see if a shot went on net that he could possibly scored on a rebound.
When he corralled the puck, he saw that bad angle and wanted to pass the puck through or for it to be on net, and the puck somehow beat standout goalie Tim Thomas, barely passing the line, giving the Rangers a 4-3 edge with 2:57 left in the game. His goal came just 51 seconds after the game-tying goal by Brandon Dubinsky.
“Michael Sauer, we have talked about him all year long, he reads plays in our end zone. He was good all night long,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It is another kid scoring a huge goal so it is great experience for him. In the playoffs, that is a great experience for him.”
While Sauer certainly filled the role as the unlikely hero in this win, he credited the team’s leaders for keeping the team focused during the game and keep the team focused on the task at hand, even with the Rangers down 3-0 more than halfway through the second period.
That leadership paid off, with the Rangers winning arguably their biggest game of the season. And it wouldn’t have happened without the play of a defenseman who was still searching for a goal in his home building.
“It was a big game, no doubt, and anytime you can win like that this time of season it brings the boys together and it brings the team together,” Sauer said. “That’s going to be big this time moving forward.”
Recap | Box score | Photos
NEW YORK -- Can't win em all.
The Rangers' five-game win streak came to end with a 2-1 loss in the shootout to the last-place Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden.
WHAT THIS GAME MEANS: The Rangers' longest win streak of the season ended when they went 0-for-5 in the shootout. The Rangers are now just two points behind Montreal for sixth place in the Eastern Conference and four points ahead of Buffalo for seventh place. Their magic number is now 12 points to clinch a playoff berth.
THE SHOOTOUT: Both teams couldn't score on their first four shots. Ottawa's Erik Karlsson scored on Ottawa's fifth shot to get his team the victory. Ottawa's Craig Anderson was fantastic all night.
THE BIG PLAY: With the Rangers on the power play, Ottawa cleared the puck down ice right to Chris Neil, who had a breakaway against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist made the big save to extend the game. He stopped 29 shots in regulation and overtime.
THE GALVANIZER: Brandon Prust electrified a dormant crowd with his game-tying goal just 1:45 into the third period. He scored on a slapshot from the right circle to give the Rangers some life down the stretch.
ANOTHER SLOW START: Just like last time out, the Rangers didn’t have much of a pulse for the first two periods. The building was flat, the fans weren’t into it and the Rangers never got much going offensively. They trailed 1-0 after two when Ryan Shannon scored with 4:39 left in the period.
WE DON’T GET ALONG: Rangers defenseman Michael Sauer and Ottawa forward Zack Smith nearly got into a brawl before they were both hit with unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. As soon as they both came back on the ice, they went right at each other, having a mini-fight that earned them both a spot back in the penalty box. There was also a big scrum in the final minutes that resulted in four players being penalized.
UP NEXT: The Rangers head to Boston to take on the Bruins in what could be a preview of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup. Boston is currently third in the East and the Rangers are just two points out of sixth place.
Recap | Box score | Photos
NEW YORK -- Here is a quick take on the New York Rangers' impressive 6-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Rangers won their third straight and picked up two crucial points as they try and lock themselves into one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. New York (38-30-4) entered the game seven points behind Montreal (39-26-7) for sixth place in the Eastern Conference and is starting to create separation with the teams on its heels in the standings.
WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS: The Garden was buzzing during the game, particularly in the fist period, with the Rangers and Canadiens fans both making lots of noise. The energy in the building was palpable and the Rangers fans seemed to love the early thrashing of Montreal, giving the Blueshirts a standing ovation with 30 seconds left in the first period. The fans chanted "USA!" at the end of the third period.
HANDFUL OF GOALS: The Rangers are not known as a high-powered offense, but they have their moments where they just have an offensive barrage. Tonight was one of those nights and it came against one of the best goalies in the league in Carey Price, who entered the game with the most wins in the NHL.
Leading 2-1 late in the first period, the Rangers scored three goals within a span of 67 seconds to boost their lead to 5-1. Ryan Callahan started the rally, Marian Gaborik followed with a goal 39 seconds later and Brian Boyle finished the scoring 28 seconds later to make it 5-1. Each goal was scored by a different player, with Erik Christensen contributing two assists.
The five goals in one period were the most by the Rangers since March 17, 2007, vs. Boston, and the first time the Rangers scored five in a first period since Dec. 15, 1999, vs. the Kings. The Rangers are now 13-0 when they score at least five goals.
A SCARE: With 3:39 left in the game, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was knocked in the head by Montreal's Benoit Pouliot, who was charging the goal and trying to score. A trainer had to come out and check on Lundqvist, who eventually got up and played out the remainder of the game.
HOLDING ON: While the Rangers had a fantastic first period, they left something to be desired for the rest of the game as the offense stalled and they let Montreal creep back into the game.
FIGHT NIGHT: It didn’t take long for this game to get chippy, One second into the game, Brandon Prust and Travis Moen dropped the gloves and exchanged blows. Later, the referees broke up what seemed to be a looming fight between Michael Sauer and P.K. Subban.
UP NEXT: The Rangers will hit the road and try and win their fourth straight when they face Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Rangers are 3-2 against the Penguins this season, having won both contests played in Pittsburgh.
Sauer Is Sweet
Michael Sauer earned top-pairing duties in the absence of injured blueliner Daniel Girardi and acquitted himself wonderfully in taking on the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera. As best I can remember, Ovechkin only had one move that really flummoxed Sauer, when the Russian wing tapped the puck off the side boards and raced around the D-man, only to be snuffed out by the omnipresent Marc Staal. After last night’s performance it seems like the Rangers can afford to rest Girardi again, but if the young defenseman continues his strong play, the impact of Sauer’s development into a responsible backliner will last well beyond Girardi’s return.
I’ll have to double check, but I’m fairly sure that “Zuccarello-Aasen” means “Supreme Shootout Overlord” in Norwegian. Diminutive wing Mats Zuccarello improved his NHL shootout record to a perfect 4-for-4, already giving him the second-most shootout goals in the league after Alex Tanguay. The Rangers have to feel pretty good about going to the shootout these days. In addition to Zuccarello, the recently acquired Wojtek Wolski, who also converted his attempt Monday, is one of league’s career leaders with 43.2 percent conversion rate in 44 attempts. When Erik Christensen returns to health, the Rangers may well be unstoppable. Christensen leads all active skaters with 30 or more shootout attempts, converting at a 55.3 percent clip. Oh yeah, and Henrik Lundqvist is second only to Martin Brodeur among active goalies with 33 shootout wins. Those talents could come in handy tonight, considering four of the Panthers’ past five games have required overtime.
If it feels like the Rangers have played a lot of back-to-back games recently, you’re right. Tuesday’s matchup with the Panthers is their third such consecutive-night battle in the past seven games, with only the Jan. 22 game against the Atlanta Thrashers bookended by off days. By my pre-coffee count this morning, they’re 10-3 in the second of back-to-back games this season. However they’ve dropped their last two such games. If they can fight off fatigue -- and the Panthers -- tonight, they’ll be rewarded with a prolonged respite over All-Star weekend, with their next game coming Feb. 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Amid his glowing reviews of his team's performance, Tortorella lashed out at the spear Vancouver's
"It's ridiculous. It's dangerous," Tortorella said. "The thing that bothers me is: How don't you see it? ... And we end up down, which usually happens when you retaliate. But if I'm Marc Staal, I'd retaliate too. I'd try to break his ankle."
Mental note: Do not spear John Tortorella. Hopefully that doesn't apply to when he gets skewered in the press as well.
While that was certainly the most colorful quote of the night, it wasn't the only one. Getting back to jocular Tortorella for a second ...
"I was hoping they'd tie it up and we'd win 2-1 in overtime," he said to open the presser, before diving into his assessment of the win.
"It was the little things, the little battles and everyone contributed ... We played harder tonight than in the Montreal game. I don't think we played badly in Montreal, but tonight was just a grittier effort."
That said, Tortorella noted that he and the coaches would still be looking for a little more grind from its top-line guys: Marian Gaborik and Wojtek Wolski.
"I think that line tonight needs to understand there's some grind in the game too," he said. "It can be a dangerous line offensively, but they need a little teaching to understand the grind. That's who we are and that's not coming out of our game. No one is exempt from adding grind to their game.
"I talked to Wooly [Wolski] on the bench during a timeout and told him that this was where we were going to teach him and where he would have to progress."
Tortorella spoke earlier today that he didn't look at playing a top team like Vancouver as a way to gauge the Rangers' ability and afterward he stuck by that stance.
"I don't want to put one game up against another," he said. "It was a good answer for us. And that's what we talked about. That Montreal game was a tough loss ... We came back and answered and I don't think we came in through the back door. We played the game we needed to play.
"I think we're a good team, but it's more important that the players things we're a good team."
It certainly seemed like there was some buy-in on that count in the Rangers locker room.
"Obviously I respect Vancouver, but I think we're a good team too," Boyle said. "We play our way we've got a pretty good chance at winning every night ... Right from the start no one was scared no one was worried."
When asked if the players took notice of the fact they just beat a team that sits atop the NHL standings, Boyle responded: "Oh, we notice. It says we're a pretty good team. It's great to be a part of it and a lot of fun."
As noted by Tortorella, Boyle's line did yeoman's work shutting down the Sedins, two of one of the NHL's most lethal scorers.
"They blocked a ton of shots. You have to give them a lot of credit," Henrik Sedin said.
"They forechecked hard and the blocked a lot of shots," Daniel echoed. "We needed to focus on shooting to the side of the net and getting to rebounds. But we weren't on our game and they seem to block a lot of shots when you're not on your game."
(Special thanks to ESPN The Magazine's Lindsay Berra for snagging the quotes from the Sedins, and more notably for successfully telling them apart.)
The Blueshirts' defensive unit has been the subject of much discussion since the trade that sent Michal Rozsival out of town. After shutting out the Canucks, they were predictably the center of some well-deserved media attention.
"We were playing pretty solid, not opening up too much. They were taking some chances and we were able to stop them" said Staal. "Hank made the saves as he's done all season long and as a team, defensively, we've always been confident going into the third period."
Staal pointed out how the team is bugging Steve Eminger about being the old man on the blue line, a "wily veteran" at all of 27.
He and his partner, Michael Sauer, also performed very well tonight.
"They have good lines all the way through so everyone's gotta be sharp," Sauer said. "You've gotta keep it simple and get pucks out because they come hard. I was hitting the boards pretty hard trying to make plays.
"Rosey[Rozsival] was a key player for us but the coaching staff has confidence in us and you want to rise up and play well for us and for your team."
"They're playing well, playing confident. They've got a lot of speed, they're good skaters," Lundqvist said. "It definitely helps. Hard work paid off tonight."
Here's what Tortorella said about the unit a little later at the presser.
"We have been defending very well and I thought we defended very well tonight," Tortorella said. "Until the last five or six minutes that's when they got the majority of their chances, but most of the middle of the game I thought we did a good job defending. Boyle's line and Staal and Girardi against the Sedin line, they did one helluva job.
"It's a group that continues to improve," Tortorella said. "I'm watching McDonagh very closely to see what his mindset is in a game like this. That's important for us as a team. Especially for a young guy like that, I wanted to see how he was going to play. He had the right type of strut in terms of closing the neutral zone off. All of them contributed."
You'll Get Nothing And Like It
Lundqvist was happy but pretty reserved about his 30th shutout after the game, focusing more on what the win meant for the team instead of his own resume. After the game he tossed his stick into the crowd, but he said he kept the puck as a souvenir.
"Hopefully I can keep it going a little longer," the goalie said, noting upcoming games with Montreal and Philadelphia. "But every shutout is special and this was a big win for us."