By: Michael Abitabilo
Call it New (York) Math. On the back of huge performances from Ryan McDonagh (27), Chris Kreider (20), Derek Stepan (21), Martin St. Louis (26), Kevin Klein (8) and Marc Staal (18), the New York Rangers’ earned more than just two points against the New York Islanders on Monday.
The Rangers entered Monday’s game with a record of 0-3 versus the Islanders this season, having been badly outplayed for most of the nine periods and outscored 13-4 over that span. And while it is doubtful the players and coaching staff took the Islanders’ fans’ “You Can’t Beat Us” chant to heart, the Rangers had to be wondering if the Islanders presented insurmountable matchup problems for a Rangers club that has shown it can skate with any team in the league. With the win, the Rangers (and their fans) can rest easy knowing that the “any team in the league” category now includes the Islanders.
Just as important as – scratch that – more important than any mental edge gained, the win pulled the Rangers to within two points of the Islanders for the Metropolitan Division lead with two games in hand. A regulation loss tonight would have ballooned the Islanders’ lead to six points which might have been difficult to overcome in the 25 or so games left in the regular season.
The Islanders have been one of the only teams that have been able to make the Rangers look old and slow this season, and they did it again throughout the first period Monday. But the Rangers weathered the storm, and Ryan McDonagh’s first-period goal set the table for what became the Rangers’ most delicious victory of the season.
McDonagh was dominant, scoring two goals and shutting down the Islanders’ top line every time he was on the ice (make that every time he was on the ice and his goaltender didn’t give the puck directly to John Tavares with an open net). Not to be out done, the legend of fellow defenseman Kevin Klein continued to grow, as the man who was traded for Michael “Soon-To-Be-Out-Of-The-League” Del Zotto had yet another signature game. Not only did Klein play his typical defensively-sound game, he was involved in two of the most important offensive sequences of the game. First, with the Rangers trailing 5-3 in the third period, Klein used his body to dispossess Tavares behind the Rangers’ net then made a perfect outlet pass to Chris Kreider, who setup Derek Stepan for the Rangers’ fourth goal of the game. Then, with the game tied at five late in the third, Klein scored his ninth goal of the season, four of which have been game-winners. Klein hasn’t been the Rangers MVP this season, but he pretty much has the MVGWM award all but locked up (Most Valuable Guy With a Mohawk). For his part, Marc Staal assisted on Marty St. Louis’s game-tying goal, but his most valuable contributions won’t show up on the stat sheet. Staal was probably the Rangers’ most physical defenseman, and (as always) used his stick effectively throughout the night. He used his defense to generate offense by springing the Rangers’ forwards with a litany of crisp passes.
Of course, almost no six-goal performance can happen without contributions from the forwards. Chris Kreider was an absolute force. In addition to using his speed and strength throughout, Kreider scored a huge goal with the Rangers down 3-1, and made an incredible no-look pass to set up Stepan’s goal in the third period after the Islanders had regained a two-goal lead. Speaking of Stepan, he sandwiched his third period goal in between two primary assists. Stepan appears to be back on track, having notched five points in his last two games – matching his total output from the Rangers’ 10 previous contests.
Last, but certainly not least, there was Marty St. Louis. St. Louis entered the game with just two goals in the 2015 calendar year, and none in his last 15 games. But hall of fame players make hall of fame plays. And just as he elevated his game in last year’s playoffs following a disappointing (albeit brief) regular season (one goal in 18 games with the Rangers), St. Louis found a way to do it again in the Rangers’ most intense game since last spring.
Ok – pop quiz time. Take out your special New (York) Math calculator. Add 27 + 20 + 21 + 26 + 8 + 18. On Monday night in New York, the answer was two points – and so much more.
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Mike Abitabilo regrets his recent writing hiatus, but hopes to be writing about the Rangers for roughly four more months this season.