Simply, it was the most complete effort of the season.
And the Rangers were rewarded for their labor.
“I thought we played a full 60 minutes,” captain Ryan Callahan said after the Rangers’ 2-1 win over the Capitals Sunday night at the Garden. The Rangers improved to 8-5-1 and have earned 17 points in their last 12 games.
“I think we’re getting where we need to be,” Henrik Lundqvist said (27 saves). “We’re doing a lot of good things. It’s a good feeling when we play the way we should play and it pays off.”
Facing an opponent that is attempting to re-establish an up-tempo attack, it was the Rangers who were the aggressors throughout. The Rangers out-hit the Capitals, 34-22, and finished with a 69-51 advantage in total shots.
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Going hand-in-hand with the chances the Rangers generated was the virtual elimination of offensive opportunities for the Capitals’ skill players.
“Our offensive game has improved quite a bit as far as keeping the puck below the hashmarks, staying aggressive with our forecheck,” Michael Del Zotto said. “One area we wanted to improve on was being more aggressive defensively and closing out early, not allowing teams to get their cycle [going] and spread the puck. We did a good job of that tonight. Pretty much the whole game we carried the play.”
Among the few instances of sustained offensive pressure for the Caps occurred within the game’s first 79 seconds. The Rangers could not clear the puck from their own end and it led to John Carlson’s goal at 1:19.
Then the shooting gallery began for New York and lasted the remainder of the game. Even though they trailed 1-0 at the first intermission, the Rangers had outshot the Capitals, 20-8. The only reason they had not broken through was the play of Braden Holtby (38 saves).
“He plays well against us, that’s for sure,” Derek Stepan said of Holtby. “Throughout the game we kept trying to get bodies in front of him.”
Carl Hagelin equalized it 7:39 into the second period with a tip of a Ryan McDonagh shot. The goal was Hagelin’s sixth in seven games. He has nine points (six goals and three assists) in that stretch.
“With so much speed and [him] going to the net, he’s a hard guy to stop,” Rick Nash said of Hagelin.
The beleaguered power play unit got into the act as Stepan’s man-advantage goal 4:25 into the third was the game-winner. Brad Richards drew the Blueshirts’ fifth power play of the game 4:18 into the period by forcing Karl Alzner to trip him.
Richards won the offensive zone faceoff and moved the puck to Del Zotto, who fired a picturesque cross-ice feed to Stepan, standing on the doorstep.
“It’s good for our power play. Our power play was huge tonight. A lot of good looks. We only score one but we had a bunch of chances,” Stepan said. The Rangers finished 1-for-5 on the power play and had eight shots on goal. “It’s three great passes — even Nash’s spin-o-rama at the blueline was a great pass. A great pass from Brad Richards to [Del Zotto]. I’ll take a bunch of those this year.”
The Rangers lost Darroll Powe for the game 3:44 into the second period with an undisclosed injury. Powe collided with Matt Hendricks and somersaulted in the air before landing on the ice. After laying motionless on the ice for several moments, he was helped to the back by Stepan and Arron Asham.
“Don’t know about Powe,” head coach John Tortorella said.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.