Sad Lundqvist is sad.
‘Tis the holiday season and we’re just going to go ahead and assume you’ve all been enjoying the pretty presents being handed out by our Capitals. Greenie going great, Ovi being unbelieoviable, Nicky being all under-stated and awesomely Swedie and such; Brooks and Braden and Beags and every other present that we really really REALLY want this year. (You know which one, Santa.)
We want those sweet, sweet holiday goodies to keep flowing – so no being naughty for us! At least until it’s safe to be smug jerks again. Thus we dispense with the reminders of the smelly awfulness of the Rags (we’re being nice!) and introduce you instead to Joe Fortunato, resident smarty and managing editor at Blueshirt Banter, for his thoughts on tonight’s tilt.
First, as incomprehensible as it may be to some Caps fans, tell us what you love about the Rangers, and how you first got interested in hockey?
This story goes back a long ways, as I’m told. The day after I was born my Dad made me watch a Rangers game. They played Montreal and they won, which is pretty cool. I guess like most people I’m a fan because my Dad was a fan and we’ve had season tickets since before I was born and it just became one of those things that roots itself into our lives. We’ve sat in the same seats my entire life and it was a big part of growing up. A sappy Christmas story.
We’ve obviously been at each other these last several years; the Tortorella Rags often found a way to block up the Caps natural offense play. How to the Alain Vigneault Rangers differ, and what’s most exciting so far this season?
I think the biggest difference between Vigneault and Tortorella is the balance. I use this statistic a lot, but remember the triple-overtime game a few years ago in Washington? You know, the one where Marian Gaborik scored the game-winning goal off a pass fr— ah, you guys know what I’m talking about. [Ed: thanks for reminding us.]
Anyway, Stu Bickel played three minutes in that game. Seriously, three minutes. Ryan McDonagh played an hour. Tortorella would run his top guys into the ground and come the playoffs they would be exhausted. Vigneault isn’t like that. Everyone plays and it’s a balancing act. Last year the Rangers were fresh and reach for each playoff game. That wasn’t the case before.
I think the most exciting thing for me, ironically, is how calm Vigneault is. New York is a tough place to play, and last year the fans were calling for his head in October. He just quietly manned the ship and led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final. I think the true expectations for success this year — rather than the hope of success — has made this team so exciting. Even if the results aren’t there just yet.
And to be fair, last year was intoxicating. I have no evidence for this, but winning in New York is like nothing else. So much of last year was a blur but I do remember the electricity running through New York. I don’t think Manhattan gets enough credit for being true hockey fans.
We feel pretty evenly-matched this season. Both teams getting pucks in net, with a good record over the last five. Caps, however, are burning it up on the road. How are the Rangers doing at home, and how much are the mumps affecting your play?
A statistic came out this weekend that the Rangers have played one game all year where everyone was healthy. The mumps, believe it or not, have actually had a positive impact on the team in that Vigneault was forced to give some kids more opportunities than he would have originally wanted, and they’ve thrived. I wrote about it a little here (along with a headline that I never expected to write in my career).
Guys like Jesper Fast, Kevin Hayes, and J.T. Miller have all stepped up and been impressive. As for playing at home, I had to look up their record this year and they’re 10-5-3 which I’ll take since the Rangers usually struggle at home.
Speaking of burning it up, Cam Talbot has had three shut-outs so far and looks to be almost as good in net as the King lately. Is he the real deal, and how much of your latest streak basically comes down to him?
Backup goalies are difficult to judge. His sample size is still pretty small, although from watching him you can see he’s a good goaltender. Is he even near Henrik Lundqvist’s stratosphere? No. But he’s a very good backup goalie who meshes well with Lundqvist and who has been able to help the Rangers earn points when Lundqvist isn’t manning the pipes.
That’s an area the Rangers have had a lot of issues with the past few years, so it’s nice to have him back there for sure.
You’re in an odd market. I can’t think of any other place where fans have three almost-local teams. What are the differences between a Rangers fan, an Islanders fan, and a Devils fan, and please engage in as much hyperbole as you wish.
Personally I just consider Devils and Islanders fans people who made poor decisions with their lives. Although they’re technically in the New York market I consider the Devils to be New Jersey and I ignore them more often than not. It infuriates them which is wonderful. I wasn’t alive for the Islanders dynasty in the 80’s — which has tilted my hatred to the Penguins and Flyers thanks to recent playoff matchups — but they’re still the little brother always trying to grab recognition in my book. Don’t get me wrong, I love the battles between the two, but I always feel like beating the Rangers (if you’re a Devils or Islanders fan) means so much more than the other way around.
We’ve played against each other a lot– what do you see in Rangers’ play that’s better than the Caps, and vice versa?
Well, typically I’d say the Capitals have the best non-goalie on the ice in Alex Ovechkin, but Rick Nash is in beast mode this year which makes the two pretty even. The Capitals have always had the high-octane offense that blows the doors off you with their power play and odd man rushes.
I think the Rangers are pretty well equipped to handle the Capitals top line (I’d take McDonagh covering anyone in the NHL) but the Capitals have so many weapons it makes them tough to play against. I think the Rangers’ biggest strength is their speed and transition game. If the Capitals are pushing forward and the Rangers can counter in transition I’ll be happy with the way the game is playing out.
Prediction time: how is this game going to go and end up?
I hate predictions. Let’s call it 4-3 Rangers with two minutes of the Capitals having an extra attacker, the Rangers can’t score in the empty net despite tons of chances and the Capitals hit a post with like three seconds left.
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