There was a great deal of concern when Derek Stepan went down with an injury in a game against the Bruins on Nov. 27, and the Rangers’ worst fears were realized when it was revealed he would miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs. The Rangers looked like a team without a rudder in the week that followed, with a listless 3-0 loss to the Flyers on Nov. 28, followed by a close win over the woeful Hurricanes (in which defenseman Kevin Klein strained an oblique from which he won’t recover for at least another week) and back-to-back losses to the Islanders and Avalanche.
But the Rangers’ 4-1 victory over Ottawa on Sunday, in which they dominated the entire 60 minutes, offered a sign that the Blueshirts won’t collapse with the loss of their No. 1 center.
“It’s funny how quick things change in sports, especially in hockey,” Henrik Lundqvist told reporters after Sunday’s victory. “We went from feeling really good, and then you start questioning things in just a couple days. So you just have to work on that every day to get it back and to feel good about yourself and the game.”
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Lundqvist, of course, has been his usual brilliant self, but the Rangers’ centers have stepped up and made the most of their extra opportunities without Stepan in the lineup.
Derick Brassard had two goals in the Rangers’ shellacking of the Senators, and has peppered opposing net-minders with 19 shots in the five games Stepan has missed so far. All told, Brassard has three goals and two assists in his last five games, taking advantage of his extended ice-time (he saw a season-high 20 minutes of action in Wednesday’s tilt with the Islanders, then topped that mark by over a minute the next night against Colorado).
Rangers rookie Oscar Lindberg has also gotten in on the act, contributing two goals in the last five games while seeing increased ice-time; Lindberg played a season-high 17:15 in Sunday’s clash with Ottawa. He has 13 shots in the last three games and is shooting an incredible 18.9% on the season, second only to Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers’ leading forward in points and goals (22 and 11, respectively). Lindberg leads all NHL rookies with 10 goals on the season.
“I do think that Oscar [Lindberg] has played well,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told the media recently. “He seems to feel more and more comfortable with more responsibilities.”
Brassard boiled the Rangers’ last few games down to this: “We are just trying to find a way to win every night. At the end of the day we just have to play hard, play our system, play in our structure, and try to be better than the other team.”
The Rangers, clinging to a tenuous division lead of one point over Washington, play five of their next six games on the road, but against some mediocre Western Conference opponents (including the Oilers twice). A showdown with the Capitals looms on Dec 20.