Hot Rangers invade Bell Centre


On the heels of the Canadiens’ disappointing loss to the Islanders on Thursday, they come home to host the hottest team in the NHL Saturday, the Rangers. Winners of seven straight, the Rangers have 23 points, two behind the Eastern Conference point leaders, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the Rangers have two games in hand on the Flyers and three on the Penguins.

After their uncertain, travel-heavy start, in which they didn’t play at home until Oct. 27, they’ve become a good road team, and are now 5-2-2 away from Madison Square Garden.

To some extent, the Blueshirts have benefitted from a favorable schedule in this run. They’ve defeated Ottawa, Carolina, Anaheim, Winnipeg and the Islanders — hardly a Murderer’s Row — in addition to beating the Sharks and Canadiens, who had won four straight when the teams played on Nov. 5. The Senators were playing well when the Rangers beat them as well.

But regardless of the opponent, New York has won these games, which is what a good team does. And they have been playing cohesive hockey.

Team defence may be the most impressive element of the Rangers’ game right now. The forwards are as diligent in their assignments as the defenders, which is not usually what John Tortorella’s clubs have been known to do. New York has allowed only 34 goals this season, fewest in the league. Their average of two goals against per game is second to the Wild, who average 1.95 a game, and have played three more games than New York. They tend to allow a lot of shots, an average of over 31 per game, but not many come from dangerous spots on the ice.

The Rangers got off to a fast 3-0 start against the Habs in New York two weeks ago, aided by some strange officiating. The Habs drew to 3-2 and then 4-3 but an empty netter by Brad Richards finished them off.

So what have the Rangers been doing well this month? For one thing, Brad Richards, with eight points during the streak, has begun to find his groove. He’s got goals in consecutive games and he’s been harder on the puck than he was in the early going. He’s been playing a good part of the time — but not always, as Tortorella regularly juggles his lines — with the Rangers’ two young leaders, captain Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

For another, Derek Stepan is emerging as a very good playmaker and developing chemistry as centre for Marian Gaborik (who didn’t click with Richards) and Artem Anisimov (who formerly centred for Callahan and Dubinsky) on the other wing.

All these tops six forwards have been producing during the win streak.

A third factor has been the aggressive play of Sean Avery, who made his season debut in that first game vs. the Habs. He was quiet that night, but he’s back to being the Unsavory Avery everyone loves, or loves to hate. He’s also now has goals in consecutive games. He began the game against the Islanders playing with Richards, perhaps to antagonize the rival Islanders. He did that rather well all night and scored the game’s first goal.

The defence corps, which is surviving the absence of Marc Staal, has grown on the backs of the current top four. Ryan McDonagh you know about; his partner Dan Girardi had become one of the game’s premier shot blockers with 42 so far this season, tied for 14th in the league. He leads the club in ice time, averaging nearly 28 minutes a game.

The second tandem, Michael Sauer and Michael Del Zotto, are a classic combo, one stay-at-home guy (Sauer) and one puck mover (Del Zotto). These four are a combined plus-33 on the season and plus-20 during the winning streak. McDonagh leads the entire club with a plus-9.

Jeff Woywitka, who was a Hab for a minute or so in preseason before being claimed by New York on waivers, has earned a spot on the third tandem with Steve Eminger. Tortorella keeps their minutes low and when Staal returns from his concussion symptoms (he’s just been cleared for light workouts), Woywitka will probably become the seventh defenceman.

Henrik Lundqvist is off to a typically strong start. His average of 2.13 and save percentage of .933 are both in the top third of regular goaltenders and during this streak, he has allowed only nine goals in his five victories. Backup Marty Biron is even better, allowing just two in his two wins, shutting out the Jets.

The Rangers thrive on scoring first. They have gotten the first goal in 10 of their 16 games and have won nine. In the six games in which they’ve allowed the first goal, they’ve lost five.

The power play struggled to start the season for the Rangers and their 13.4 percent success rate ranks them 24th in the league. When a man short, New York fares well, killing 87.7 percent of their penalties.

Tortorella indicated on Thursday that he’d likely stick with the same lineup that beat the Islanders on Tuesday. If that means the lines that finished the game, here they are:

Artem Anisimov-Derek Stepan-Marian Gaborik
Brandon Dubinsky-Brad Richards-Ryan Callahan
Sean Avery-Brian Boyle-Ruslan Fedotenko
Brandon Prust-Erik Christensen-Andre Deveaux

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto, Michael Sauer
Jeff Woywitka, Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron


  1. Propwash says:

    All winning streaks come to an end sometime. Hope the Habs can pull it off!


  2. habsnation says:

    If anyone wants another reason to hate on Gomez tonight (not that you should need one) watch Ryan McDonagh. He was the key piece we gave up to get Gomez. He has 3 goals, 4 assists this season, and more importantly, is averaging over 25 minutes per game. Given how depleted our D has been wouldn’t it be nice to have this guy back there?

    I can’t help but think watching him lately that giving him up, regardless of who we got for him, might be the biggest mistake we have made since we traded away Patrick Roy. The 1-2 punch of McDonagh and Subban would have given the Habs a great young defensive core we could build around for years to come.

  3. HardHabits says:

    The Habs never looked so good this season as when they had a 4th line of Blunden-Nokelainen-Darche with no Gomez on board.

    The Habs needed a 4th line that could bring energy and be defensively responsible. Instead Blunden gets thrown under the bus.

    The next two games should give us an idea of what kind of team the Habs really are.

    Gainey is up there forcing Gomez into the line-up because he wont admit that the move bringing him to Montreal in exchange for McDonagh was a catastrophic error.

  4. SPATS says:

    Agree that they are a much improved team, but the night we faced em, the zebras tilted the ice in their favor on the poor call against Blunden


  5. JF says:

    I half expected to hear yesterday that the Habs had signed Paul Mara. I like our young defencemen, but it’s painfully obvious that with so many of the veterans injured, there are going to be nights when they make a lot of mistakes. I’m sure JM never thought he’d have to play so many inexperienced defencemen at once; the ideal would be to ease them into the lineup gradually, with limited minutes and some games in the pressbox. The situation at the moment is dire; we can’t afford a losing streak, and we have a tough schedule ahead, capped by the California trip. I think Mara could help. He’s not particularly mobile, but he’s big and physical, he can block shots, he can help clear the front of the net. And he wouldn’t cost much.

    • The Cat says:

      Why would JM and PG be surprised? Injuries have been par for the course the last couple of years, have they not? The D will continue to hurt, they get pounded too much.

      [Disclaimer]: I’m a hockey fan. I care about the habs, but probably not as much as you.

    • 24 Cups says:

      Jane – it’s hard to believe that Mara could be any worse than Woywitka or Eminger.

      I guess it’s going to be trial by error with the kids for the foreseeable future. Which is probably better than trading them away for 3rd round picks or over-the-hill +35 contracts.

      • JF says:

        Much better. I can live with their mistakes, even if it means missing the playoffs. I think they’re all eventually going to be good. But it wouldn’t hurt to have another veteran presence, and I thought Mara was good in the few games he played last year.

  6. chemic says:

    i really dont get it why some of you guys cheering for this team or
    whatever your thing is when you follow them? this whole bitching and hating about this and that is much worse than any mexican telenovela i dont watch…….not sure if fairweather fan or just trolling.

  7. Habitant in Surrey says:

    …I am not certain if it is the masochist or sadist in Me (probably both, I’m bi-polar after midnight 🙂 ) …and I don’t know WHY ??? I am going through this effort to copy/paste here at 1 AM in the morning (My Kids are asleep, can’t sleep Myself, yawwwwwnnn)
    …BUT I just felt this perverse need to give Ya’ll the mirrored-reflection of how Rangers’ fans are also puzzled WHY ??? We (Bob) traded for Gomez and the price (not Carey, thank Gawd !) We paid for Him
    …the following are just the top-7 sequential comments found beneath the blog/link provided by SlovakHab below (Blue Shirt Banter/SB Nation)
    …swallow a few Tums (Drambuies ?), and enjoy (commit Seppuku ?)

    “…It’s been said before but
    how pissed must Montreal fans be? Get Gomez, give up McD and cap space (with which we signed Gaborik).

    …McD is the real deal. His smarts and skating ability are going to keep him at the top for a long time. He’s now part of the core of this team.

    Manning lobs it, Burress alone, touchdown New York!
    For the empty net, Mark Messier… do you believe it?! Do you believe it?! He said we will win game 6 – he has just picked up the hat trick!
    by Broheem NJ on Nov 17, 2011 11:18 AM EST reply

    …Essentially, sather traded gomez for mcd and gaborik.

    …Quite a lopsided trade. Not to mention the other fill in piece in valentenko.

    by GAThingy on Nov 17, 2011 1:08 PM EST via mobile up reply

    …Don’t forget other pieces that got moved around…
    Higgins got moved with Kotalik for Prust (and a Sex Panther rental which I don’t even acknowledge). Valentenko may or may not pan out, but he WILL be an NHL D-man, perhaps not here, but we’ll at least get a pick for him if he does get moved.

    by Kritikal on Nov 17, 2011 2:13 PM EST up reply

    …right, if Montreal had the cap space, you know they’d be in on the Gaborik sweepstakes

    by Town on Nov 17, 2011 6:11 PM EST up reply

    …Well they did, until they brought in Gomez.

    “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
    by Moshe52792 on Nov 17, 2011 10:45 PM EST up reply 1 recs

    …and Valentenko

    Absolute Worst Ranger Fan!!!!!!….yet incredibly realistic and usually correct.
    by earthworm on Nov 17, 2011 11:53 AM EST reply ”

    POSTSCRIPT: …yeah, yeah, I’m also trying to figure-out the allusion to a ‘Sex Panther’ ….hmmm, MAYBE Sather knew Bob’s weakness ? …McDonaugh thrown in for a night with a Sex Panther ??? …let the speculation begin 🙂

    Habitant means PASSIONATE HOCKEY

  8. SlovakHab says:

    Know your enemy: Good read on a young Rangers top-pairing D-man, who they obtained along with a cap space to sign their #1 RW, in a trade for a couple of 4-line wingers.

    I think it was a decent deal for them, considering they still have a remote chance to add Valententko as well… Hope PG will talk to that GM and trade with him too!

    All in all, as much we are excited about Subban, Weber, Belieau and Tinordi we’re not the only team with reasons for optimism as they have a decent future on D with McD, Del Zotto, Staal, McIlrath …

    • SlovakHab says:

      Also, I don’t know about you but I’m glad we quickly grabbed Cammalleri instead of that bum Gaborik (who unfortunately didn’t need Gomer on the team he signed with – which is really surprising – I thought Gomez was a prerequisite to obtain a good free agent winger).

      Although he may outscore Cammy 73-49, outpoint him 149-106, out-plusminus him 30-5, outhit him 112-37, outblockshot 59-49, and is 4 inches taller, I am pretty sure he’s a bad influence in the dressing room and all those points come from playing a different system, and Rangers home scorekeepers must be pretty generous as well. And he’s soft. And injury-prone. And costs 1M extra.

    • DorvalTony says:

      Don’t forget the throw-in on the Nomez trade.

      Little giants: Henri Richard, Mats Naslund, Yvan Cournoyer, Aurel Joliat, Howie Morenz, Guy Carbonneau, Newsy Lalonde.

  9. Habitant in Surrey says:

    …what are the odds that Ian & The Gang are sober at this moment ? …long odds I assume 🙂

    Habitant means PASSIONATE HOCKEY

  10. Dintrox says:

    Love the optimism. The rangers have good goaltending and a good D but no one expected they would be as hot as they are. About time the blue shirts were knocked back to Earth. The Islander game was disappointing but you guys ride highs and lows like you are on a roller coaster. You fellows may want to try some mood stabilizers— lithium salts perhaps. The game at MSG was perhaps the most poorly officiated game of hockey I have witnessed. Tim Peel shouldn’t even be allowed to ref pee wee.

  11. The Dude says:

    Yes…nice off season vision Mr .Gauthier ….nice collection of athletes? I’ll give you points for Cole and that’s all. You are running a Mash unit once again and the only thing keeping the Team in is the young cheep guy’s. You would be a good G.M. for Columbus but this is the fabled Canadiens and you don’t have the vision or the smarts to put this franchise back on the Mountain top. Martin has done ok with the newbe D ,the 25 mil per wasted on Spatch,Gio, Cammy and Gomez and the ahlers like Darch etc . Hope you enjoy tomorrow’s fiasco ,it’s sure too expose your lack of talent for being a visionary leader . The Maginot line just don’t work Pierre…all you got to do is go around man!

    • DorvalTony says:

      And wtf is Gainey doing still here, his hound dog face gracing the press box and elsewhere?!
      Little giants: Henri Richard, Mats Naslund, Yvan Cournoyer, Aurel Joliat, Howie Morenz, Guy Carbonneau, Newsy Lalonde.

  12. habfanacrossthed says:

    The forwards better backcheck their arses off! Richards looked very dominant with the puck last outing. Never hesitant with the puck, shooting or passing. This young defence better communicate big time out there. Like to see a 5-1 or 5-2 win for the boys. No more posts, or shooting right at the goalie! Cammy pots 2 goals and 1 assist. Pleks 1 goal, 2 assist. Gionta 3 assists. Cole with 1 goal and 1 assist. Eller 1 goal.
    Wonder if this game is played clean, or it gets a little dirty out there?

    GHOD – Go Habs Or Die

  13. ari says:

    They should put a statue of bob gainey outside MSG.

    • DorvalTony says:

      Maybe I could be reincarnated as a pigeon.

      Little giants: Henri Richard, Mats Naslund, Yvan Cournoyer, Aurel Joliat, Howie Morenz, Guy Carbonneau, Newsy Lalonde.

  14. Timo says:

    I thought JM’s The System was supposed to achieve that – fewest goals in the league. I mean, if you don’t score, you at least don’t get scored on either in order stay competitive. At this point even Torts would be a better choice than JM. Actually, at any point he is a better choice.

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