With the month of March well underway, the New York Rangers look ahead to a tough stretch of games that will work as a barometer of this teams readiness for the playoffs. The Rangers taking on a total of 15 games in the month will be battling against teams that are either in a playoff spot or well within the hunt.
The Rangers, with their most recent win against the Washington Capitals, have improved to first overall in the NHL for the first time this season. Tied with four teams for first, the Rangers will have at least one game in hand on each of them. Yet what may come, as a surprise to someone who does not follow the Rangers closely is the fact that they have reached this prime position despite being without all-star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Goaltender Cam Talbot has backstopped the Rangers in 18 of 19 games since Lundqvist’s injury earning them 29 out of a potential 36 points. Talbot has posted two shutouts during that span, including one against a dangerous Chicago Blackhawks team. What’s more in the last five games he’s gone 4-0-1, with a 1.00 goals against average, as well as a 0.966 save percentage putting up the best numbers of his career.
The Goal Buster, as he’s lovingly referred to by the Rangers fans, has come up big recently as the overall game of the Rangers seems to be taking a positive turn away from their high risk high reward play of February. The defense has noticeably stepped up as well contributing to allowing only 5 goals in 5 games so far this month despite facing powerhouse-scoring teams on the road such as the Blackhawks, New York Islanders, and Detroit Red Wings.
Additionally young role players such as Kevin Hayes, and J.T. Miller have improved their decision, and play making by contributing to the offense in a timely fashion providing an edge in games that could have gone either way. A recent example of this was a goal of the year type goal by forward Kevin Hayes against the Islanders.
In a move that had the Rangers bench on their feet in excitement, and pride Hayes powered towards the net on a break away despite Islanders defensemen Thomas Hickey’s attempts to lean and beat him off the puck. With a shrug Hayes spun Hickey off towards the net and used his long reach to sweep the puck into passed the sprawling Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak to tie it up 1-1 (Rangers would win 2-1).
With short slumps like that of Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis coming to an end during this stretch of games you get the sense that this is a team is a team where the hero could be anyone at any time. You never know where the important goal, or assist may come from because it honestly could be any given player on any given line. Since the drama of the trade deadline has passed, the Rangers seem to have focused on executing the right things to win hockey games.
In Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Capitals, it became apparent in the second period that Cam Talbot would not be denied. As the Rangers were on a 5-3 power play disadvantage, Geico spokesman, and forward Nicklas Bäckström was absolutely robbed by a filthy glove save by Talbot.
With Backstrom waiting at the back post Washington forward Joel Ward completed a tape-to-tape pass through the crease, which Backstrom lifted toward the unprotected net. However Talbot was able to track the puck the entire way, and through pure instinct flashed the leather to snag the puck away from the goal line. Gasps of anguish, and elation filled the Verizon Center as Talbot effectively made the greatest save of his career to that point.
Despite at times struggling with offense on power plays, as well as winning face offs consistently, the play of the New York Rangers seems to win out with exceptional consistency. The truth about this team is that on any given night a win could come from anywhere, and more often then not does.
The speedy, and deep New York Rangers aim to be playing their best hockey come time Henrik Lundqvist’s return. As the Rangers look forward to face the Buffalo Sabers this Saturday it would seem that this team is becoming more stable the closer the playoffs get, which is great news for Rangers fans.
Notable upcoming games include playoff contenders: the Florida Panthers (3/16), Chicago Blackhawks (3/18), Anaheim Ducks (3/22), Los Angeles Kings (3/24), with back to back games against the Boston Bruins (3/28), and Washington Capitals (3/29).