John Tortorella often spoke throughout the season of the importance of the development of the New York Rangers’ young players.
Now in the midst of the playoffs, the plan is beginning to pay off. And while the Rangers trail Washington 3-1 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals after last night’s 4-3 double overtime loss at the Garden, the long term future for an organization that had often eschewed tomorrow for today is bright.
With an average age of 27.44 at the start of the season, the Rangers were the ninth youngest team in the National Hockey League. Nine players — Brandon Prust, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle, Ryan McDonagh, Artem Anisimov, Matt Gilroy and Mats Zuccarello — made their NHL playoff debuts in this series, while Chad Johnson dressed but not has played. The playoff neophytes have totaled a goal, an assist, two points and are minus-4 in the three games.
Statistically unimpressive but the game is more than numerals. Prust has irritated the Capitals by finishing his checks and, like his teammates in Game 3, crashed Michal Neuvirth’s crease. While McDonagh and Sauer have not scored in this series, they have are even just under 21 minutes a game. Both rookies have found themselves on the ice against Alex Ovechkin. The Capitals captain has scored two goals, two assists, four points and is minus-two in four games.
Both played more than 30 minutes last night and were mostly solid. McDonagh finished even while Sauer had an assist but was minus-1. The duo were on the ice for Alex Semin’s early third period goal that cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-1, and Sauer’s aggressiveness led to Marcus Johansson’s marker 1:03 later.
“To McDonagh’s credit, after (Semin’s goal), he stood in a played really well after that. It’s something that a young kid may struggle with but I thought he played very well,” Tortorella said about the rookie defense pair’s miscues.
“It’s a play we’ve talked about the whole series, about them whipping pucks to the weak side. Michael leaves the front of the net and Dubi isn’t ready for the play.”
The youth is not just relegated to the first and second year players. Even though he has completed his fourth full NHL season, Brandon Dubinsky is just 25 years old. His off-the-board-and-net-crashing-goal decided Game 3. Dubinsky won 12 of 26 faceoffs, threw seven hits and was plus-two in 25:45.
He was strong again last night with a goal and an assist in 33:17. The left wing won eight of 18 faceoffs, was physical and played well defensively.
“I don’t think Dubi’s confidence has ever been shaken. He is a guy who has grown, has matured, still has a process to go through but is understanding all of the things about being a pro,” the coach noted earlier in the week. “Confidence … he kept his confidence. He wants to get better. He knows he’s a big part if we’re to succeed, he needs to be a big part of it. He realizes that and I just think he wants to accept responsibility and be consistent as a player.”