New York Rangers coach John Tortorella puts his team through a grueling training camp focused on conditioning prior to every season for the reason displayed Sunday against the Florida Panthers. Playing the second of a back-to-back, the Rangers looked like the fresher, more ready team, throttling the Panthers for a 6-1 victory at Madison Square Garden.
Florida has a six-point lead in the Southeast Division. It possesses one of the most lethal first lines in all of hockey and a rejuvenated goaltender in Jose Theodore playing some of the best hockey of his career. Sunday, the Rangers would have none of it, dominating Florida up and down the ice -- in ever facet of the game.
The Rangers' offensive onslaught began in the first quarter via a power play wrister by Brad Richards. Artem Anisimov followed it up at 17:27 on a great passing sequence between him, Anton Stralman and Erik Christensen, who banked it off the post as Anisimov banged it home.
Florida would answer 40 seconds later, but the Rangers erupted for a four-spot in the second quarter, beginning with a Derek Stepan goal on a shifty move to the net seconds after the penalty kill expired. Moved to the second defensive pairing after Michael Sauer's injury, Steve Eminger has been very steady. So it was only fitting that the veteran potted a goal to reward him for all his hard work. Marian Gaborik potted his 15th of the year off a rebound on a Christensen attempt. If one thing was clear from this game for Florida, Theodore had some terrible rebound control, leaving the puck in dangerous spots on numerous occassions.
For the most part, the Rangers were able to capitalize. Michael Del Zotto's high, hard shot off Theodore banked off the goaltender a minute after Gaborik's goal -- and Stepan was there to clean it up, giving him two goals and an assist in the game. Del Zotto and Eminger finished the game with plus-four ratings, giving the often maligned (last season) Del Zotto a team-high plus -15 on the young season. The 21-year-old has become a reliable presence on defense this year, and his offensive game is really starting to emerge as well (he had a helper in this one).
Not only did the Rangers go 2-for-3 on the man advantage, they killed of seven penalties. The amount of penalties is a bit concerning, but the team has been disciplined recently so that can be chalked up as out of the ordinary, for now. More importantly, even with all those penalties, the Rangers limited the Panthers to 21 shots on goal. The high-flying top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg were non-factors, only recording two assists on the night.
Eighteen skaters dress for hockey games. To put it in perspective: only three Rangers did not record a point in this game, Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Prust and Jeff Woywitka. There's no other way to put it: The Rangers flat-out dominated the Panthers, and quite possibly, played their best game of the season. They're 17-6-4 as a result.