It was another tough home-ice loss for the Blueshirts Tuesday night, a 3-1 final against the Nashville Predators at Madison Square Garden. And it was another tough break as the Rangers lost team captain Ryan Callahan for the next 4-6 weeks due to a sprained knee.
RANGERS THREE STARS
JC: I'm going to be honest, no rose-colored glasses here, there were not a lot of candidates for the team's three stars in
Left Wing - NYR
Goals: 1 | Assists: 0 | Pts: 1
Shots: 2 | +/-: 0
Tuesday's night's loss to the Preds, but I will say that that the threesome which combined on the Rangers only goal were the three best Blueshirts on the ice. Rick Nash
is my No. 1 Star, showing a slick finish to cut the team's deficit to 2-1 early in the second period. He also led the Rangers wih five shots on goal despite being hounded and hit at every turn seemingly on every shift by the Preds All-Star defenseman Shea Weber. Nash found ways to fight through the abuse Weber was doling out, and was the Rangers best player in my opinion by far over his 20:49 worth of ice time.
From the first drop of the puck Derick Brassard looked like a different player Tuesday. Clearly whatever messages were delivered in the closed-door team meeting Sunday, and by head coach Alain Vigneault on Tuesday, got through to Brassard, who looked like he was shot out of a cannon bouncing off Preds players, desperately trying to make a difference both physically and creatively. It was one of Brassard's most visible games in a while, and needs to be the starting point for a bigger push from him. Brassard picked up an assist, had four shots on goal, hit the post with another shot, and played 21:18 of effective hockey, by far his most ice time of the season, and he was my No. 2 Star for the Rangers.
Yet again Brad Richards is in this mix as my Third Star. Richards logged 21:46, attempting 12 shots along the way, most on the team by a wide margin. The downer here is that Richards only put two shots on goal, but I liked that he was always, and I mean always, looking to shoot. For a team that tends to make that extra pass, Richards wanted to be the one to drive a shot through, especially on the power play. But when it was a time to make a pass Richards did just that, with a gorgeous quick feed to Nash cutting to the net, earning Richards his team-high 15th assist of the season.
MC: As you said, wasn't much positive to take away, but hard to argue with the three players you've selected, namely for that gorgeous goal by my No. 1 star, No. 61. On a team getting little offensive consistency throughout the lineup, Nash has been the exception, as he's scored six goals in the 12 games since he's returned to the lineup last month. His goal in the second period — like many of his markers this year — was highlight-reel worthy, as he's shows so much patience while breaking in on the goaltender. Where most players would fire the puck, Nash holds onto it and uses his hands to open the net up in a way that always makes you want to watch it again.
My second star was Brad Richards, who looked very comfortable back on a line with Rick Nash, which I was a little weary about due to their mixed results earlier in the season. But I do like Richards on the wing, as it allowed Derick Brassard to move up into a top-six spot to center those two after Ryan Callahan was injured. Richards continues to show confidence in his shot, as he fired 12 pucks towards the net — though just two found the goaltender — and was active in the rush, especially on the goal.
My third star was Brassard, who like you said, played with an edge all night, especially between whistles. That's part of what Alain Vigneault wanted to see from his squad. There is a misconception that team toughness is defined by the amount of fights a squad has, but that's not the case. Brassard wasn't scared to drive to the net and take a glove to the face or chest for it. It went both ways, as well, as he wasn't scared to shove a Predator after the whistle as well. I hope to see more of that from Brassard moving forward.
RANGERS UNSUNG HERO
JC: Like Three Stars, there were not a slew of candidates for the Rangers Unsung Hero Tuesday night, but I will say that Michael Del Zotto stood out in this category. Being asked to go from being a healthy scratch to replacing Marc Staal when your confidence is in a state of flux is not an easy thing to do, but Del Zotto has handled himself quite well in two games since Staal was injured. On Tuesday he played 20:20, his second straight game with more than 20 minutes of ice time on the second defense pairing, fired four shots on goal, blocked another four shots at the other end of the ice, and generally played a solid game. He was on ice for Nashville's second goal, as well as for the Rangers lone tally scored by Rick Nash, so he ended up with an Even plus/minus rating. If Del Zotto can continue to regain confidence and play better and better, that would be a silver lining to the terrible news that Staal has suffered another concussion.
MC: I really hate to copy you here as well, but even before we started the piece I knew Michael Del Zotto would be my guy here. Sure, he was caught up the ice on Nashville's second goal, but over the last two games he's played with a confidence we haven't seen from him in a while, as he's carrying the puck up the ice, feeding his teammates and making things happen. He's the team's biggest offensive threat — though Ryan McDonagh has taken huge steps in that area of the ice this season — and Alain Vigneault has stated quite often how important it is to get offense from the blueline. It's a shame that Del Zotto's two strong games came in lop-sided losses because I think his success gets over-shadowed. Del Zotto played some of the best hockey of his career in 2011-12 while Staal was out of the lineup from the first 35-plus games, and while you'd prefer to have Staal in there, hopefully Del Zotto can rekindle that play in a top-four role playing alongside Anton Stralman.
CALLY CAN'T CATCH A BREAK
JC: Just as I feel terribly for Marc Staal having to deal with another concussion after all he went through the past two years with major injuries, my feelings are similar in regards to Ryan Callahan, who last night suffered another injury that will cost him more time on the sidelines. Callahan worked extremely diligently this past off season to come back sooner than expected from major summer shoulder surgery. Though he did not play in the pre-season, nor in the regular season opener out in Phoenix, Callahan was somehow back in the lineup against the Kings in Los Angeles in Game No. 2. His feel good story was derailed nine days later when he suffered a broken thumb in the waning seconds of a victory in Washington. After sitting out seven games, Callahan again returned to the Rangers lineup sooner than expected on November 2nd. Now he is injured again five weeks later, an injury that compromises the Rangers on the ice and in the dressing room where his play and leadership will be missed greatly, especially at a time when his team is struggling to find their way. This knee injury also may hurt Callahan's chances of representing the United States in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Socchi, which would just be another downer on what has been a cruel season, so far, for the Rangers captain.
MC: It certainly is cruel for Captain Callahan, who over the past several seasons has personified this Rangers organization. Other players probably would have changed their style way before this off season's shoulder surgery — I'm going as far back as his broken ankle in 2011 — but not Callahan, who only knows one way to play, and that is 110 percent. Of course he injured it using his body early in the first as the Rangers tried to set the tone for the evening with some physical play. As you said, this latest injury — coupled with the broken thumb earlier — could hurt his chances for playing for the US at the Winter Olympics in February. Callahan has showed his drive to get back into the lineup sooner than expected before, and hopefully that happens again this time around.