MATT: Hard not to go Cam Talbot here, and I’m running out of reasons not to put him in the top three whenever he starts. He’s been that good and that reliable for the Rangers. Like Sunday against the Wild, Talbot wasn’t over-worked, facing just 26 shots through 65 minutes, and you could make the argument that he stopped all of them, as Toronto’s only goal came after the puck was pushed out from under his pad. Talbot faced just five shots in 20 minutes in the second period, but was solid as ever in the third period and really gave the Rangers opportunity to win when Toronto was pushing hard. He got some luck in the shootout with James Van Riemsdyk hitting the post, but he denied Nazem Kadri with the game on the line in the shootout, and that’s all you can ask for from your net minder. Talbot finished the night with 25 saves.
My second star goes J.T. Miller, who clearly made the most of his team-low 9:29 of ice time with his third period goal that appeared to be the game-winner had the whistle blown when Talbot had the puck under his pad. Regardless, Miller had a strong night, his second game back with the Blueshirts after being recalled Saturday from Hartford. While some may argue that he deserves more ice time, I don’t mind Alain Vigneault bringing him along slowly with the team, as he really adds some offensive depth to the team’s bottom-six. I’ve liked him on the line with Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot, as all three are strong on the puck. Miller had a great scoring chance earlier in the second period, but the puck was rolling and he fired it wide. As stated, he had just 9:29, but somehow had five shots on net and won three out of four face-offs.
My third star goes to Ryan McDonagh, who was a beast, especially in overtime when he single-handedly came back and broke up a breakaway for Phil Kessel. Night after night, McDonagh wows me with his skating ability and just how much he’s grown in all three zones. He logged an astounding 29:31 of ice time to go along with four shots on goal, three hits, four takeaways — none better than the one on Kessel — and four blocked shots.
JIM: C'mon Matt, I wanted to play the role of Grinch here on Christmas Eve and get one final disagreement in with you before the holiday break! But I can not disagree. I went with Cam Talbot No. 1, J.T. Miller No. 2 and Ryan McDonagh No. 3 as well!
Talbot did not have to be incredibly fantastic Monday night, but he needed to be solid and needed to stop the shots he faced because Jonathan Bernier was in the midst of a big-time performance at the other end of the ice. He did just that, particularly in the first period when he made 10 saves. Then in the second period I was real impressed with his glove save on Phil Kessel late in the period because 1) it was a lightning-quick glove save through traffic, and 2) he kept his concentration and focus locked in despite facing only five shots the entire period. It's a shame Talbot did not get the shutout, but again I was impressed how his focus never wavered even after that terrible call went against him late in the third period. His play in overtime and in the shootout helped solidify his First Star ranking on this night.
Miller played less than 10 minutes Monday night but made the most of nearly every shift. He was second on the team with five shots on goal, was responsible defensively, and scored the team's only goal. He confidently slid into the slot, giving Chris Kreider a perfect target to pass to, before ripping a low hard shot past Bernier. No question Miller looks more assertive playing center rather than the wing, and last night was as good and involved as he has looked all season long.
"Beast" is the correct word to use for Ryan McDonagh. He was that and then some Monday night, playing a shade under 30 minutes. He recorded four shots on goal at one end of the ice and blocked another four at the other. He was credited with three hits. But those are mearly numbers. It's how he cleared the crease, won puck battles, generated offense, and made the defensive play of the night by chasing down the speedy Phil Kessel in overtime and stealing the puck cleanly from him during a mini break. Another typical night at the office for McDonagh.