JIM: I thought right from the first puck drop Chris Kreider was the best, and most energized, player on the ice. He was playing with a possessed passion, using his outstanding speed to consistently get in on the forecheck, and was hounding down loose pucks at every turn. Once again he played with a physical edge, using his impressive strength and size to his advantage, and he constantly was going to the net, fighting for space in the dirtiest area of the ice: Evgeni Nabokov's crease. And that's where Kreider scored his first goal of the season, a deserved reward for doing mostly the right things over his 16:49 last night. Kreider has seemed like a different player---in a positive way---the four games he has played since his recall from Hartford, and I'm getting the feeling he is only now scratching the surface of what he could end being for the Rangers.
My No. 2 Rangers Star Tuesday night was Carl Hagelin, another player who provided a jolt of energy throughout the lineup with his speed and ability to hunt down pucks shift after shift. The Rangers forecheck looks a whole lot different---and the team has the puck a heckuva lot more often---when Hagelin and Kreider are going at full speed.Hagelin did not record a shot on goal and did take two minor penalties, but he made the smart pass on Benoit Pouliot's game-winning goal, was very good on the PK, and got his nose dirty grinding away when he wasn't flying past someone in a blue uniform. Pretty impressive season debut for Carl Hagelin.
My No. 3 Star of the game is a tough choice. Pouliot, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, John Moore...my list goes on and on with possibilities, but I will go with Pouliot. He scored the game-winning goal, ripping a long shot past Nabokov, and showed again---as he did in Detroit last Saturday---that the big moment does not scare him off. Consistency has alluded him through 11 games as a Ranger, but he looked very comfortable last night on a line with Brad Richards and Hagelin. He forechecked well, created scoring chances, and helped shut down the John Tavares line, too, over 15:55. And that game-winner is worth watching again.
MATT: Can't argue facts, and it was a fact that Chris Kreider was the best player from start to finish. As you stated, he was a man possessed last night. He was in on the forecheck — often being the first player below the hashmarks — was physical and just read plays. He finished with one goal, but could have had another, maybe two, because he found the open space on the ice and got into passing lanes that just created offensive opportunities. The Rangers have been struggling for offense, but if Kreider — along with linemates Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello — can keep playing the way they did last night, the Rangers could have a dangerous trio to work with.
My second start is Benoit Pouliot, who has had two very strong games in the last three contests, and not by coincidence, the team has won both. With the absence of Rick Nash and Ryan Callahan, goal scoring has to come from somewhere, and Pouliot certainly has the size and skill set to provide it, which he did last night on a beautiful give-and-go with Carl Hagelin on the game-winner. Alain Vigneault and his coaching staff certainly know that, and they leaned on Pouliot last night in his season-high 15:55 of ice time.
My final star goes to Ryan McDonagh, who had the big power play goal in the third period to tie the game, 2-2. Prior to the tally — his first career power play goal — McDonagh and his partner, Dan Girardi, played solid shutdown defense against the Islanders unit of Kyle Okposo, John Tavares and Thomas Vanek, keeping all three off the scoresheet. Tavares saw his 10-game point streak snapped. McDonagh is so versatile thanks to his speed, so it's always good to see him get rewarded on both ends of the ice. Plus, is there a more emotional goal celebration in the NHL than McDonagh?
1- Chris Kreider
2- Benoit Pouliot
3- Ryan McDonagh