-- It's one thing for a player's hometown fans to serenade him with boos after a mistake or a series of miscues. Heck, it's an expected reaction if a player makes enough gaffes.
But to hear those boos after scoring goals or picking up assists? That's something no player will ever hear while playing in his home building.
Unless, of course, that player is New York Rangers
defenseman Michal Rozsival, who is notoriously jeered by the fans at Madison Square Garden when his name is announced after he registers a point. The good news for Rangers fans on Sunday night against the New Jersey Devils
was Rozsival gave them two reasons to let him hear it.
Rozsival had a goal and an assist as the Rangers won their third straight game and first at MSG this season, earning a 3-1 victory against the Devils. With 2 goals and 4 assists in 7 games this season, the 32-year-old is tied for eighth among League defensemen with 6 points.
Still, Rozsival was subjected to boos for Sunday's accomplishments (He was initially credited with a primary assist on his goal) and teammate and alternate captain Ryan Callahan
said he's tired of hearing the fans at Madison Square Garden jumping all over one of their important players.
"You can hear it. It's a lot of people screaming. You definitely can hear it," said Callahan, whose first goal of the season in the second period was the game-winner. "It's unfortunate. I know it gets under my skin a bit when it happens.
"It's disappointing to hear the boos come from the stands. We know in this room that he means a lot to us and we know what he does. It's unfortunate that he gets that kind of reception in our building. I don't think it's right and I don't think he should."
Rozsival signed a four-year, $24 million deal after his 13-goal, 25-assist season with the Rangers in 2007-08. Since then, his numbers have dropped precipitously, all the way to 3 goals and 20 assists last season. That will always turn the fans against a player.
This season, however, Rozsival has seemed to have found his scoring touch. He also leads the Rangers (4-2-1) in ice time with an average of 25:14 per game and is third in blocked shots with 12.
Rangers coach John Tortorella, who took over behind the bench at the end of 2008-09 season, said he's seen Rozsival improve by leaps and bounds this season.
"He gets run over sometimes," Tortorella said. "But he's played some unbelievable hockey for us here of late. And I go back to last year. I thought his last couple of months, he stepped up in his preparation, how hard he's been on the puck. Everything about his game. And he plays most of the minutes because he's in all situations for us.
"I look at him from when I first came here to where he is now, I think it's a different player. And it's because he has a different intensity about him in practice. I think it rolls over into the game. He's been a pretty damn important player for us."
For the Devils (2-6-1), who now sit 29th overall in the League, it was yet another uneven performance. Goaltender Martin Brodeur
held his team in the game by making 17 saves in a scoreless first period, but the Rangers broke through on Rozsival's goal at 1:26 of the second period.
Brodeur stopped a hard wrist shot from Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko
, but it clearly stunned the goaltender, who was shaking his arm in pain. As Brodeur tried to square up to Rozsival, his shot whizzed past Brodeur after deflecting off traffic in front of the net to put the Rangers ahead 1-0.
Getting shots toward the net from near the blue line has become a regular occurrence with Rozsival.
"He's definitely getting pucks through," Callahan said. "He's been really good for us defensively. He's been logging a ton of minutes. I think that's what we need from him. He's off to a good start and for us to be successful, he has to bring that every night."
Callahan scored on a power play at 12:22 of the second period to make it 2-0. Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk
, back in the lineup after he was a healthy scratch Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, was in the penalty box after taking an interference penalty on Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi
That led to Callahan's goal, which was the result of his deft redirection of a Brandon Dubinsky
pass toward the front of the net. Callahan admitted it was a relief to finally get his first goal of the season.
"I've been getting the opportunities, they just haven't been going in," Callahan said. "So it was definitely nice to get it."
Kovalchuk made things interesting by scoring his third goal of the season with 5:52 remaining in the third period. It was set up by a gorgeous no-look, between-the-legs pass by Dainius Zubrus
at the side of the net. When the puck found Kovalchuk, all he had to do was slam into the vacated net to cut the lead to 2-1.
But Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
was sharp over the final five minutes, holding the fort to allow Dubinsky to cap the scoring with an empty-netter in the final second.
After losing leading scorer Marian Gaborik
to a shoulder injury and captain Chris Drury to a broken finger on Oct. 15 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rangers have responded to the adversity with 3 wins in 4 games.
"It's pretty tough losing your top scorer, but I think the way we have responded from that has been pretty impressive," Callahan said.
Meanwhile, the Devils have yet to find an answer for their uncharacteristically slow start. Their 15 goals are tied for fewest in the League and their 30 goals allowed are the second-most in the NHL.
"We battled hard, we created some opportunities, we just didn't finish," said Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who took three minor penalties. "It's frustrating, but when you dig yourself in a hole with the way we've been playing, that's kind of what's going to happen. You just have to claw your way out and this is a good start, but we have to start getting results."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo