JIM: I'm going to be honest, no rose-colored glasses here, there were not a lot of candidates for the team's three stars in Tuesday's night's loss to the Preds, but I will say that that the threesome which combined on the Rangers only goal were the three best Blueshirts on the ice. Rick Nash is my No. 1 Star, showing a slick finish to cut the team's deficit to 2-1 early in the second period. He also led the Rangers wih five shots on goal despite being hounded and hit at every turn seemingly on every shift by the Preds All-Star defenseman Shea Weber. Nash found ways to fight through the abuse Weber was doling out, and was the Rangers best player in my opinion by far over his 20:49 worth of ice time.
From the first drop of the puck Derick Brassard looked like a different player Tuesday. Clearly whatever messages were delivered in the closed-door team meeting Sunday, and by head coach Alain Vigneault on Tuesday, got through to Brassard, who looked like he was shot out of a cannon bouncing off Preds players, desperately trying to make a difference both physically and creatively. It was one of Brassard's most visible games in a while, and needs to be the starting point for a bigger push from him. Brassard picked up an assist, had four shots on goal, hit the post with another shot, and played 21:18 of effective hockey, by far his most ice time of the season, and he was my No. 2 Star for the Rangers.
Yet again Brad Richards is in this mix as my Third Star. Richards logged 21:46, attempting 12 shots along the way, most on the team by a wide margin. The downer here is that Richards only put two shots on goal, but I liked that he was always, and I mean always, looking to shoot. For a team that tends to make that extra pass, Richards wanted to be the one to drive a shot through, especially on the power play. But when it was a time to make a pass Richards did just that, with a gorgeous quick feed to Nash cutting to the net, earning Richards his team-high 15th assist of the season.
MATT: As you said, wasn't much positive to take away, but hard to argue with the three players you've selected, namely for that gorgeous goal by my No. 1 star, No. 61. On a team getting little offensive consistency throughout the lineup, Nash has been the exception, as he's scored six goals in the 12 games since he's returned to the lineup last month. His goal in the second period — like many of his markers this year — was highlight-reel worthy, as he's shows so much patience while breaking in on the goaltender. Where most players would fire the puck, Nash holds onto it and uses his hands to open the net up in a way that always makes you want to watch it again.
My second star was Brad Richards, who looked very comfortable back on a line with Rick Nash, which I was a little weary about due to their mixed results earlier in the season. But I do like Richards on the wing, as it allowed Derick Brassard to move up into a top-six spot to center those two after Ryan Callahan was injured. Richards continues to show confidence in his shot, as he fired 12 pucks towards the net — though just two found the goaltender — and was active in the rush, especially on the goal.
My third star was Brassard, who like you said, played with an edge all night, especially between whistles. That's part of what Alain Vigneault wanted to see from his squad. There is a misconception that team toughness is defined by the amount of fights a squad has, but that's not the case. Brassard wasn't scared to drive to the net and take a glove to the face or chest for it. It went both ways, as well, as he wasn't scared to shove a Predator after the whistle as well. I hope to see more of that from Brassard moving forward.