Good teams bounce back and make adjustments after poor outings. The New York Rangers have proven that they aren't the league's best team for no reason, coming out after a disastrous effort Sunday in Montreal to defeat the Nashville Predators 3-0 at Madison Square Garden. The win snapped the Preds' five-game win streak and gave Henrik Lundqvist his 20th victory and fourth shutout of the season. He made 27 saves.
New York's bread and butter stems from their defensive play. Simple plays in their own zone, smart exit passes, blocking shots and excellent man-on-man coverage/support is the main reason they've been so successful -- a league-leading 62 points successful -- this season. They're not really a high-scoring bunch, with only 2.79 goals put on the board per game, so their defensive structure is crucial. Their offense is predicated on sound zone play, and in their 4-1 loss to the Canadiens on Sunday, it was all over the place.
It returned with a vengeance Tuesday against Nashville as their were very few defensive-zone breakdowns. Even though they struggled connecting on first passes out of the zone early on, their support was good and they were able to limit the Predators' high-scoring opportunities.
The yeoman's work done in the D-zone translated into the offensive zone numerous times and was the reason Dan Girardi was able to get the fluky goal that hit off the defenseman's leg and into the net. Even after a few Nashville rushes, New York controlled the pace of a two-minute spurt that Girardi scored off of, cycling down low and creating chances. It wore Nashville's blueliners out as they had to stay on the ice for just over two minutes.
John Mitchell connected midway through the second period -- another reward for great zone time and pressure. Mitchell threw a quick wrist shot on net that a screened Anders Lindback could not get a good view of and beat him short-side. Ryan Callahan had the goal on the empty-net late in the third period.
Lundqvist was exceptional in net, but the solid defensive fundamentals from his teammates helped him out immensely (and of course, he made a number of amazing saves, as well).
Overall, the win was extremely encouraging: the Rangers' hard-working style was evident, they grinded it out and played a very smart hockey game. They'll need to carry this momentum over to their next game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.