The Rangers started this season with seven new faces on the roster compared to the team that finished last season, including key players like Brendan Shanahan, Aaron Ward, Matt Cullen, Adam Hall, and Karel Rachunek. Last night, nine of the players the Rangers started the season with were no longer with the team or otherwise not available -- three due to injury, one in the minors, two waived, and three traded away. And even though you can't really judge from their 4-0 wire to wire win over a Montreal team that never even attempted to contest the two points (except physically), there were two elements to the team that took the ice tonight that were more reminiscent of last year's team than this year's -- this was Jaromir Jagr's team, for really the first time this season; and this was a young team, one that made up for what they lacked on paper with the way they competed on the ice.
Although injuries to Shanahan, Martin Straka, and Kevin Weekes had a lot to do with it, the Rangers last night had only four players over the age of 30 (including 30 year old Cullen) and nine players age 25 or less. With Shanahan out of the line-up, the offense was geared completely toward Jagr, and with Ward dispatched to Boston, a direct challenge to Jagr's captaincy and style of play was excised. That may not be welcome news to fans who prefer a different style of play, but it is the only style of play that has been successful for the Rangers for any stretch of time in the past ten years, and it delivered a key win on a big night when every other playoff rival lost except for the Isles (who won in OT after blowing a 5-2 lead to Philly).
Perhaps most importantly, the power play came through, going 2-for-5 in the first two periods while the Habs were handed only one power play of their own. With a 3-0 lead, the Rangers made sure not to blow a third straight multi-goal lead and helped Henrik Lundqvist secure his third shutout of the season. Marcel Hossa continued to sport a hot scoring hand with a pair of goals. Even coach Tom Renney is not sure whether the notoriously streaky Hossa can maintain this torrid of a pace (eight goals in his last eleven games) and be finally deemed a goal scorer -- only time will tell, and only a continued focus on taking the puck to the net, which Renney credits for Hossa's resurgence, will tell a story with a good outcome for the enigmatic winger.
Notes: The Jagr-Ward "feud" was a big story before and after the game, but it was a one-side feud. As far as Jagr was concerned, the argument he and Ward had on the bench over three weeks ago in Tampa came in the heat of the moment and was forgotten -- Jagr apparently is no stranger to heated discussions with his teammates. But for Ward, it became a manufactured excuse for his benching the other night, the latest in a growing series of evasive tactics in blame-taking by the struggling defenseman, one taken repeatedly in a public forum behind Jagr's back -- Ward's method may have doomed him more than his particular madness.
The Rangers were hoping that Paul Mara could make it to New York on time for the game, but airline delays kept him from reaching the Garden until afterwards. Mara emphasized that, despite his size, his forte is as an offensive defenseman, a role he had filled throughout his career until this season, when Boston asked him to take a more defensive posture. He also made sure to tell people who asked that even though he was born in nearby Ridgewood, New Jersey, he was reared in the Boston area. Of course, he liked the Rangers growing up, he says, rooting for Brian Leetch. Of course.
Despite winning a game that keeps their playoff hopes alive for another day (or two), the news today is, quite naturally, mostly about the trades that were made (and, especially in the case of Ward, why they were made) and trades that were not made -- see the Daily News, Journal News, Newsday, Times, Post, Record, Advance, AP, SNY, and NY Sports Day, with additional notes from the Record and USA Today. More on the trades and Ward-Jagr situation in Blueshirts Blog, Rangers Report, SNY, MSGN.com (Kenny Albert), and MSGN.com (Dave Maloney) -- Rangers Report had a bunch of posts all day yesterday that are worth revisiting, but the best is the one about Ryan Hollweg. Habcentric game reports here and here (French).
There were a bunch of league-wide trade deadline reviews in which the Isles invariably came out as winners and the Rangers were mostly deemed neutral, but all of these are stricly focused on this season and do not for the most part take into account the damage the Isles may have done to their future, especially if Ryan Smyth signs elsewhere (here?), while the best thing the Rangers did was not mortgage any part of the future for a futile playoff run. The Smyth trade somewhat overshadowed Mark Messier night in Edmonton -- if you're interested, you can read about Messier in the News and CP. Reaction on the Rangers' trades from the other teams' point of view -- Boston Globe, Boston Herald, and from an AJC blog, Thrasher fan comments clearly demonstrate that no one there expected Alex Bourret to amount to much. The impact of roster churn on the Wolf Pack is the subject in the Hartford Courant. And Jess has a brief prospect update from last night:
No, what you are about to see is not a mistake. Everett and Eric Hunter’s Prince George Cougars did play two different games Tuesday night in what was a WHL first. First the two teams had to finish a game that was stopped back in October due to a Zamboni breakdown. The entire third period had to be played prior to the originally scheduled game. In the first game, Eric Hunter’s 23rd goal helped give the Cougars a 2-1 first period lead last fall, but Everett tied the game last night in the third period and went on to win in a shootout, 3-2. In the second game, Prince George was a 6-4 winner, with Hunter notching an assist. One has to feel sorry for Lukas Zeliska, his once promising season falling apart -- he was -4 in Prince Albert's 8-3 loss to Swift Current.