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LOS ANGELES – The Rangers locker room sounded like a scene out of the movie “Animal House.”
After a 4-3 win over the Kings (a game where the Rangers completely carried the play after falling down 2-0 in the first period) the song “Shout” by the Isley Brothers blasted through the room. Players screamed the song’s title every time the punch line hit.
Sadly nobody yelled, “Otis! My man!”
Kevin Klein walked around with his Broadway hat bopping his head. The room wasn’t officially open to the media, but the door wasn’t closed, giving reporters a small view into a red hot team.
This begs the question: How did a team that was middling for much of the early part of the season turn into the hockey equivalent of the Human Torch, winning 12 of its last 13 games?
“I mean, there’s different ways to win hockey games. I don’t know,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “I guess you can make a case for playing heavy and big body guys, but right now we’re doing it with speed and quicker and smaller guys. We’re just playing well as a team and a good team game. “
The Rangers are built on speed. It was a major storyline before last year’s Cup Final against the Kings – speed vs. power. But that was when the Rangers were playing at warp speed. On Thursday night at Staples Center, their fastness was at ludicrous proportions.
Even the never talkative Darryl Sutter got the right quote.
“We had trouble keeping up with a fast team,” he said. “You have to be able to skate with them. You have to have speed through your lineup. To do it and you have to be able to check. Our top players weren’t in a checking mood.”
Interestingly this year it’s the ‘speed’ teams that are carrying the play as the heavier teams have seen inconsistency. The Rangers have scorched the league through December and January. The Nashville Predators have the NHL’s top record. The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile the Kings and the Bruins – two of the preeminent power hockey franchises – have struggled to find themselves this year. Both of those squads always had a great blend of mobility to go along with size. Now, they’re just skating in quicksand
Milan Lucic is on pace for 16 goals. Anze Kopitar is on pace for his lowest full-season point total since his rookie season.
Maybe it’s the grind of both teams playing lots of hockey over the last four years. Or maybe the NHL is moving to a faster dynamic again.
“We have a couple of guys who can move up front and they’re pretty hard to handle,” forward Derick Brassard said.
With the Kings off to a 2-0 lead, the Rangers struck quickly. A Dan Boyle power play goal got the team back in the game and sort of re-engaged them.
Then the second period started, and BAM Kevin Klein scored 2:31 into the frame.
KAPOW, Lee Stempniak scored 29 seconds later.
BOOM Martin St. Louis put the Rangers up 4-2 on the power play at the 8:17 mark.
That’s all it took, just a little over eight minutes for the fast Rangers (who beat the Ducks the night before) to catch the Kings sleeping.
How do they do it? The Rangers have players who can skate at multiple positions. From the likes of captain Ryan McDonagh, fellow blueliner Kevin Klein (the greatest contract in the NHL), to forward Mats Zuccarello, St. Louis and Chris Kreider, they attack from every direction.
“It’s easy to think we’re trying to go up and down but it takes a few plays to get there and that’s what we’ve been doing consistently here,” captain Ryan McDonagh said.
And this year, New York does have some of the horses to play heavy. Rick Nash is on pace for his first 50-goal season. Klein is a fantastic two-way defenseman and Marc Staal is a big, mobile dude.
Also, New York is no longer burdened with Brad Richards’ contract and subsequent distraction. The focus is solely on hockey.
“For us we’re just playing well right now,” Boyle said. “We have a lot of guys who can move and can motor. We’re getting the best of teams right now.”
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