‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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A majority of contending NHL franchises are defined by their style of play.  This isn’t something that can be said about the persevering New York Rangers.

Teams that are built around fast, skillful skaters often can be disrupted by an adversary that focuses on physical play and agitating.  On the other hand, a slow-skating roster can just as easily be burned when pitted against a team full of puck-moving speedsters.

The Rangers aren’t a team that relies purely on skill or physicality.  They can flip the switch and play either game.  Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin be dangle with the best of them, while Brandon Prust, Ryan Callahan and Mike Rupp provide plenty of grit and moxie.

Critics of the Rangers have pointed out their need to acquire an additional top-tier goal-getter or a ‘powerplay quarterback.’  Sure, any team would be boosted by adding such players to their lineup but the Rangers are by no means a broken vase in need of repair.

Until last night’s overtime-winning goal, casual hockey fans and overeager pundits were ready to bury Brad Richards.  They failed to see the entire picture of what Richards brings to the Rangers.  He isn’t just a player who is capable of putting up 70-point seasons.

Just ask Ryan Callahan, a terrific leader in his own right who appreciates Richards’ entire package:

Brandon Dubinsky echoed similar sentiments about Richards when I spoke with him post-game.  “He’s been there for all year for us and finding ways to put big goals in the net. It’s huge to have a guy like that on our team and someone who really loves when the big parts of the game come along,” he reflected.

Richards is a steady veteran who’s ‘been there, done that and bought the t-shirt.’  Slumps are part of hockey.  It’s something that every player deals with and to Richards’ credit, he’s spent the majority of his career without deviating from his high standards.

“You can’t keep a guy like that down for too long. He’s too gifted and too great of a hockey player. For him to break through tonight was very deserving. He’s pretty pumped about it and obviously, it gets us the extra point here tonight, so it’s a big goal,” Dubinsky stated.

It was never in doubt whether Richards would find his game.  I expect him to finish the regular season strongly and approach the 60-point mark.

Steve Eminger spoke about Richards’ effect on the Rangers:

Richards spoke with reporters post-game, “It’s a process.  I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m happy with everything yet.  It’s great to help the team win.  It’s important to bounce-back from the from losing the other night and get right back on score-sheet.  If we can get the two points, that’s the main focus.”

Richards isn’t the only Ranger who has drawn criticism from careless pundits and armchair general managers.  Some were begging Glen Sather to rid of Brandon Dubinsky as part of an earlier potential deal to land Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks.

Dubinsky is one of the ‘glue players’ within the Rangers’ locker room.  He’s a more complete player than Bobby Ryan who is a typical NHL power forward who relies of size and power to score.  At this stage of his career, Ryan has a lot of learn about aspects of the game that Dubinsky quietly flourishes in such as penalty-killing and hockey sense.

Another player under the microscope was Brian Boyle who was being attacked for not repeating his 2010-11 breakout season.  Like Dubinsky, Boyle thrives on the penalty-kill and does everything that’s asked of him from head coach John Tortorella.

Lately, he’s been on a hot streak but Boyle is more of a player who chips in goals here and there.  His main assets are his size, grit, defensive awareness and faceoff skill.  Whatever offensive production Boyle adds beyond his capacities is an added bonus as far as I’m concerned.

All of the guys inside the Rangers’ locker room believe in one another and in Tortorella’s philosophies.  There isn’t a panic or finger-pointing going on.  Everyone knows their role and goes about their business.  That coolness is why the Blueshirts have kept their losing streaks brief and lead the Eastern Conference with 73 points.

Rangers fans, is the Blueshirts’ unity their most important attribute?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.


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