By Sean Hartnett
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No opposing team looks comfortable when matched against the line. They’re turning up the heat on opponents, putting them on the backfoot and forcing turnovers.
It’s a line that brings quickness, tenacity and skill. The trio is striking up excellent chemistry and filling up the stat sheet. Brassard, Miller and Fast have collected 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) over a span of seven games, with each member of the line accounting for at least six points during the stretch.
“We’ve found some good chemistry,” Miller said. “You have Quickie (Fast) — what you see is what you get with him. He works so hard to create turnovers. It’s another example of just a little play he makes to set up a chance on a goal. He brings that. Any time Brass has the puck, I’ve got to make myself available because he’s got some unreal vision and a good shot as well. We had a handful of chances tonight.”
Monday’s 2-1 home victory over the Devils was further evidence of the line’s superiority. Brassard collected an assist and recorded five shots on goal. Fast registered an assist, recorded four hits and was credited with two takeaways. Miller scored the game-winning goal and was a physically dominant player on the ice, registering four hits.
“All three of them complement each other,” center Kevin Hayes said. “Millsy’s playing really well. He’s obviously scoring a lot. Brass makes it look really easy. Quickie is a hardworking player.”
Another reason for the line’s success is the players’ communication. There is constant chatter on the bench, before faceoffs and during play.
“I’m a pretty vocal guy out there, Brass is, too,” Miller said. “On faceoff plays, we have some different plays. We want to give a team a different look. Most teams scout the teams, so we want to start the game with a different one than they might expect coming. Communication is big.”
Though Miller-Brassard-Fast led the way, the Rangers as a whole worked hard as units of five, pushed the Devils back and forced their Hudson River rivals into a slew of mistakes. In addition to recording a sublime assist on Kevin Klein’s goal, Mats Zuccarello led all skaters with four takeaways.
“We definitely, no doubt, put a lot of pressure on their defense tonight,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We forced a lot of turnovers, got some good looks. I really like the way we played. We put a lot of heat and pressure on and used our speed. It was overall a good game for us.”
A whole different test is coming Wednesday when the Rangers visit the Penguins at Consol Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins have won six of seven and are coming off a 6-2 dismantling of the Anaheim Ducks. Superstar center Sidney Crosby has extended his goal streak to a career-best seven games.
Crosby has been rejuvenated since former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston behind the bench. Since Sullivan has taken charge, the Penguins captain has amassed 34 points in 23 games. Former Ranger Carl Hagelin has added an extra speed dimension to the Pens’ charge. They’re a dangerous and deadly team.
“We are definitely going to be tested on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, so we will see how we respond there,” Vigneault said.
Four of the Rangers’ 29 remaining regular season games come against the Penguins. Currently, the Blueshirts are second in the Metropolitan Division with 65 points through 53 games, while the Pens are third with 61 points through 52 games. The Rangers’ lane to securing a playoff place likely goes through Pittsburgh.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey