Chris Drury must have been reading the message boards. Seriously, it was remarkable how focused and “on” he looked tonight. From the opening drop of the puck, which shortly there after included a flukey goal, all the way till the very end of this game, Drury was playing his usual 2-way game to perfection, and he actually played the offensive zone effectively. In a role reversal here tonight, it was the combination of Naslund and Drury that lifted up an absolutely atrocious (and that is being kind) performance by Nikolai Zherdev, who played about as bad a game as I have ever witnessed from a professional hockey player without actually lumberjacking someones face a-la Chris Simon. Zherdev turned the puck over with a blind behind the back pass that was a perfect tape to tape pass…to the wrong team, 5 feet from his goalie. That wasn’t all Zherdev did wrong, on top of having a handful of boneheaded turnovers, he also had a few terrible penalties (yes, I felt both were legit), and was more or less invisible in the offensive zone with the exception of his shot that led to Drurys goal (and netted him an assist). Zherdev better learn that you need to come to play every night, and that crap like what we saw last night will never be tolerated in Rangerland.
On the positive side of things, Gomez, Drury, Naslund, and Lundqvist all looked spectacular. That is how this team is supposed to be built, the big money players, actually playing like big money players. Lundqvist was absolutely spectacular, keeping a game close that could have turned to an Islander blowout really quickly. He was about as spectacular as we have ever seen him, sans Dallas last year. Naslund was also active in all 3 zones, and generated a few scoring chances. Gomez was absolutely flying, even making his 3rd line wingers look halfway decent in the process. However I still stand by my now weeks long assessment, that this team is best served with Gomez, Drury and Naslund all playing on the same line. Their games are very complimentary, and I feel they give us a line we can be pretty happy about in terms of matching up with some of the better top lines in the league.
The Rangers are now a surprising 9-2-1 so far this season, and have equaled the greatest start in franchise history at this point of the season. You can’t help but be happy with the results, but what is far more interesting here is that this club is nowhere near, not even remotely near clicking on all cylinders yet. They are probably playing about 65-75% of their optimal playing capacity right now, particularly in terms of their forecheck and passing. Once they start approaching 90-95%, then we will be seeing something really special. A team that can skate, a team that is elite defensively, and a team with one of the best goalies on the planet.
That’s all from me for tonight, its nearly 5am, and I am exhausted. See everyone on Thursday.