There was precious little that could be construed as aesthetically pleasing in the latest edition of the Rangers-Flyers blood feud.
Except, of course, for the outcome.
The Rangers enter a significant week in their season coming off a 3-2 shootout win Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. The Rangers have won two of the three games they have played since the All-Star break, and have a four point lead over New Jersey for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
“Every team is so close in the standings and even if we gave them two points there, they’re within striking distance,” J.T. Miller told reporters after the win in Philadelphia. “We knew that if we just kept the pedal down, hopefully we would get them to crack and it was just a good example of fighting to the last second. We’ve showed that many times here in the third period, we’ve always had some really great comebacks. So for it to pan out like that I thought that it was really good for a lot of the guys.”
In a season in which pointed questions about player personnel and their usage have been asked, the emergence has been a significant positive.
The 22-year old ranks second on the team with 16 goals—behind co-leaders Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello who have 18 each—and his 29 points is fourth most.
“I see a young man that is definitely growing and understanding more every day what it is to be a pro, and going out there and working hard to become the best player he could be,” Alain Vigneault said of Miller after the Rangers’ 4-2 win over Minnesota on Feb. 4. In that game, Miller recorded two points, scoring the tying goal and assisting on the game-winning goal.
“He’s putting in a lot of time in his off-ice conditioning, works hard in practice, and he’s getting an opportunity right now,” Vigneault said. “He’s definitely playing well for us.”
Vigneault’s words differ from the words he uttered nearly two years ago.
During the 2013-14 season, Miller was shuttled between the NHL level and AHL Hartford, and was publicly criticized by Vigneault.
“There needs to be more commitment on his part both on and off the ice,” Vigneault said before the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Avalanche in Denver. “Until there is, he just hasn't earned the right to be at (the NHL) level on a regular basis. Any young player going through the process of being a NHL player, you've got to figure it out. Hopefully he will, and when he does, we'll have a pretty good player. And if he doesn't, he'll be a good minor leaguer.”
What has changed for the 22-year old?
According to Brassard and Henrik Lundqvist, it’s a matter of confidence.
“As a young player in the league, a lot of times it’s going to take a little longer to get that confidence of making plays. He’s right there. He got drafted in the first round and this team really believes in him. I think that the trust that he gets from our coach, I think that brings him to play a lot better on the ice. If this team is going to go far, J.T. is going to be part of it,” Brassard said about his linemate following the win over Minnesota.
Added Lundqvist after the game: “The first practice I saw him, his strength, the way he shoots the puck. He has good hands, vision, he has everything to become a great hockey player. He’s getting there. He’s improving so much, but the biggest thing is probably just confidence, realizing that he is that good and he can use all these tools to be a great player.”
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter@DenisGorman