Who would have thought at the beginning of the season that the line contributing the most to the New York Rangers’ season would not be the first line, not the second line, but the third line?
Before the Olympic break, the line was anchored by Rangers’ leading scorer Mats Zuccarello; however, after Zuccarello broke his hand in the Olympics, the line continued to contribute without losing a step tonight against the Chicago Blackhawks.
After much controversy surrounding the call up of minor league player JT Miller for the game tonight, the move ended up paying off for head coach Alain Vigneault and the Rangers.
After a three week break from action, it looked as if the Rangers’ third line did not have a break at all, they picked up right where they left off in early February setting the bar for the level of play of the entire team.
The Rangers came out skating hard with determination to win the game and earn a tough two points against an elite opponent. Their hard forecheck forced turnovers in Chicago’s defensive zone leading to goals for the Rangers.
Miller showed that he deserves the spot left open by Zuccarello’s injury, by getting an early assist off a takeaway from Chicago superstar Jonathon Toews early in the game.
While the entire team looked focused and determined to get the win, the third line especially played in a way that continued the Rangers’ success from before the break.
The Rangers played solid, fundamental hockey, something that while seems relatively simple is really the key to success at any level of the sport. If the Rangers can continue playing good, fundamental hockey, then their hot streak can continue as long as their play remains consistent.
The Rangers’ third line was by far the best out there tonight, once again providing the offensive edge that the Rangers needed. While the third line continues to contribute, that allows the rest of the team to not need to panic and look for offense and to just let their game flow. Hockey without any pressure to score or expectations for offense is much easier to play and results in wins more often than not.
Another aspect of the Rangers’ first game back that was great to see was their penalty kill and defense, playing almost flawlessly and keeping the Blackhawks at bay.
While the Rangers looked fatigued as the game progressed, this is easily attributed to the lack of gameplay for most players in the past three weeks, something that will easily resolve itself as the season gets back into full swing.
Cam Talbot came through for the Rangers tonight, providing another stellar performance, bailing the Rangers out once again and proving that he can be used down the line when starter Henrik Lundqvist needs a rest with no worry of defeat.
The Rangers looked strong in their first game back and will only get stronger as the season proceeds once again.