Rangers won last night thanks to “meaningless superlatives” like anger and grit

Zuccarello responds (Getty)

It was shaping up to be another emotionless and dreary evening at the Garden. In the bat of an eye, the Senators quickly jumped out to a 2 goal lead and the game was barely 3 minutes old.

So What Changed?

Depending on who you ask, the answers will vary from highbrow analysis to simple old fashioned nuances about the sport. You will hear how the Rangers did a better job of letting Raanta see the puck, used their speed and created more chances than they had in previous games. From me you will hear what today’s hockey stat aficionados would call meaningless superlatives, that are devoid of any factual statistics to back up my analysis.

What changed? The Rangers finally played with emotion! They finally got angry and it showed for most of the 2nd and 3rd periods which allowed them to overcome the 2 goal deficit and end a 2 game losing streak by a score of 4-3.

Stepan led the way (Getty)

This is something I’ve been screaming about since Henrik Lundqvist got obliterated in Dallas, a game they won. Seeing not a single Ranger stand up for Hank was infuriating. Winning tends to make everything look better, so barely beating the lowly Predators and Devils (both in shootouts) let things simmer down. Then 14 goals against Pittsburgh and Minnesota brought it all back up to a froth.

Not only did the Rangers get trounced on the scoreboard, their response to the situation lacked any semblance of a backbone. They just shrugged their shoulders, slouched over, and quietly skated off the ice. That was a huge problem.

Hey! Don’t take my word for it, listen to the man that engineered the comeback last night, Derek Stepan. This excerpt from the NY Post:

“There is so much emotion in this game, and you don’t have that, you’re going to be in so much trouble,” said Stepan, who has elevated his game in the absence of Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad in recording 14 points over his past 13 games. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about the last two games. It’s so important to have good chatter on the bench and we had none of it; no emotion.

NO EMOTION! Which you can translate that into GRIT, JAM, TOUGHNESS, ANGER, PASSION, or any other “meaningless superlative” that these chart and graph worshipping hockey geniuses choose to disregard.

Rangers Motivated Themselves To Victory

Any way you want to look at it, the Rangers were bad. Especially if you want to put on your Corsi-Colored glasses, they shouldn’t have won last night. They were out played in corsi, fenwick, scoring chances…you name it and the Blueshirts were bad at it yesterday. Yet they walked away with a comeback win….how? I bet many will say “luck”. Do me a favor, when the analytics gurus use a superlative like “lucky”, remind them of this… they just used words they hate to explain why advanced stats couldn’t account for the result on the ice.

The Rangers won despite not having Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, and Henrik Lundqvist on the ice. They did so by finally motivating themselves to play out of some very uninspiring hockey.

Derek Stepan did that last night by getting up and yelling at his lifeless teammates last night. He also made it more impactful by scoring twice to lead the way. You can’t deny it as even Marc Staal noted, “The lack of emotion and the way we looked the last two games is nothing we were proud of…[Stepan’s] thing was for us to come alive on the bench, get behind each other and not to sulk. He stepped up and our group.”

Rangers Fought Back

While Stepan speaking up was important, his response and production on the ice were obviously even more so. As were the Rangers actually standing up and sticking up for each other. Matter of fact, Chris Neil probably provided the Rangers with their biggest rallying point in the game.

In the second period, with the Rangers still down 3-2, the Ottawa tough guy hit Brady Skjei and rode him into the boards. The hit was borderline, but the Rangers smallest player, Mats Zuccarello responded which led to an even bigger melee.

His teammates took notice as well, “What Zuke did might seem like a subtle thing, but it was a big thing, actually,” Stepan said. “That’s something you can build your team and identity on.” Funny how those subtle things have more meaning than having a great shift because your line got a shot and theirs didn’t.

What should also be noted is that during the scrum, MSG microphones picked up someone from the Senators bench yelling at Jimmy Vesey. “This isn’t the NCAA…guys actually fight here,” could be heard during the broadcast. Emotions were boiling over now on both sides.

Well in the third period, Jimmy Vesey took that to heart and inspired the Garden crowd by fighting Mark Stone.

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-Nlxotn_Z4″]

Now at the time of the fight the score was 3-3, Nick Holden would score the game winning goal just 2 minutes later. Did the fight swing momentum to the Rangers? Once again, the highbrow analysts said the fight was meaningless, but those in attendance at MSG said the building came alive and felt the energy.

Hockey Will Always Be An Emotional Sport

The way the Rangers have been playing can’t be fixed by emotions alone. They need to work on their defensive coverage. They need to fix their defense or play a style that fits its personnel better. Up front they need to be healthy, but they also need a few guys that can also be a physical force. They simply play too one dimensional most nights and don’t finish their checks. A good hockey team needs to be able to play different styles and respond to in game situations properly.

Advanced stats have a place in the game, it helps us understand that good teams usually put up better possession numbers that leads to a more sustained winning formula. It helps us see beyond what’s happening on the ice, but sometimes it makes others overlook things too.

For those who continue to dismiss or ignore the emotional aspects of hockey, you are missing a major component of the game. Until the day human beings stop playing the sport and are replaced with robots, androids or cyborgs…”superlatives” will always be a huge part of hockey.

Last night, playing as bad as they have been over the last week…it was superlatives, not possession stats that won them a hockey game. Ultimately in the end, it will be both that will propel the Rangers to longterm success this season.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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