MATT: If anyone saw Cam Talbot bursting on the scene and going 5-1 — five straight wins — with two shutouts would be lying. But, that's the reality we find ourselves in, and Talbot just continues to shine start after start. While he made just 17 saves, there were several in the second period when the game was still scoreless that allowed the Rangers to later take the lead on Ryan McDonagh's goal. Many have written about Talbot's calmness and how the team is comfortable with him in net, but it's very true. Watching him, you'd never know that this is still his first taste of the NHL.
My second star was McDonagh, who after a shakey start — and who didn't have one on this team? — he's playing some of the best hockey of his career. He's back to being a rock on the backend and is now contributing offensively as well, as he deflected home Dan Girardi's shot in the second period to open the scoring. McDonagh said after the game that he wasn't thinking about playing in front of Team USA General Manager David Poile, but whether or not he was thinking about it, there's no doubt he made quite the impression and argument that he cannot be left off the roster for Sochi.
Finally, my third star was Mats Zuccarello, who snapped his point drought in a big way with assists on both Rangers goals. On the Derek Stepan goal, I personally was calling for Zuccarello to shoot, but he opted to pass and clearly it was the right choice. He's so fun to watch in open ice, as he just sees plays develop so well. He's added such a dynamic to this offense since he was scratched last month, and he's playing the best hockey he's ever played in the NHL.
JIM: I like your three choices here, but I would change the order. I have Ryan McDonagh as my No. 1 Star, Mats Zuccarello as No. 2 Star, and Cam Talbot os the team's Third Star. I like McDonagh at the top of this list because he was the most dominating player on the ice, playing a forceful shutdown game in his own end, while also contributing at the other end of the ice. His game-opening goal showed nice instincts to get into an area where he could tip Dan Girardi's slap shot, and a pretty fair set of hands, as well, especially for a defenseman! Over 26 minutes McDonagh showed once again Saturday why he is the team's best defenseman so far this year at both ends of the rink.
Zuccarello assisted on both Rangers goals Saturday, had three shots on goal, and was very reliable defensively. Several times he raced back into the defensive zone to help break up Predator rushes. His work on McDonagh's goal was as diligent along the boards as it was smart and effective in how he worked the puck to an open Girardi for the shot. His feed on Derek Stepan's score was smooth and pretty. A real quality 17+ minutes for Zuccarello Saturday night.
I know Talbot backstopped his second straight shutout and has now won five straight starts, but I am giving him my No. 3 Star only because this was such a great team defensive effort and he was not asked to do all that much over 60 minutes. However, he does earn a top three star ranking because when he was needed, Talbot kept his focus and made the big save---as he did on Paul Gaustad's second period deflection when the game was still scoreless.