RANGERS POWER PAST OILERS 4-2 IN EDMONTON
|Steve Valiquette turned in a strong performance, making 26 stops to win his second of three starts for the Blueshirts on Thursday night in Edmonton.
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers turned in a complete 60-minute effort and, buoyed by great special-teams play, skated to a rousing 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night at Rexall Place.
Ales Kotalik, who briefly played with the Oilers before signing with the Rangers as a free agent this past summer, recorded a three-point night with a goal and two assists to lead the visitors. Marian Gaborik
and Ryan Callahan
both notched a goal and assist.
“That was one of our main concentrations tonight, to get more offense involved,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We found a way to score a few goals and win a game.”
Steve Valiquette made his third start of the season in goal and earned his second victory for the Rangers. He stopped 26 of 28 shots.
“Any time Vally starts we want to gather around him and get a win for him,” said Callahan. “He’s a guy who’s great in the room, and every day after practice he’s out there helping us work on shots. And he’s such a good goalie when he gets in there. He makes some big saves. It’s a big win for him.”
The Rangers, who fired a season-high 39 shots on Oilers’ goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, scored three power-play goals for the first time this season. And the team’s penalty killing unit also played a big role in the win, putting forth a perfect 4-for-4 performance.
Carrying a 3-1 lead into the third period, the Rangers took advantage of a four-minute high-sticking penalty called against Edmonton’s Fernando Pisani at 3:55. Kotalik pounded a booming slap shot on goal that Khabibulin could not control, and Gaborik skated out from behind the net to tap the puck over the goal line for his 12th goal of the season at 7:31 to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead.
Gaborik’s 12 goals are second most in the National Hockey League, just two fewer than Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. He is also just two off the pace set by Jaromir Jagr in 2005-06, when Jagr established the Rangers record of 54 goals in one season.
Mike Comrie notched his fourth goal at 10:17 of the third to bring Edmonton within two, but Valiquette -- whom the Rangers acquired from the Oilers back in 2004 -- was strong down the stretch in order to preserve the Rangers’ first road win since Oct. 17 in Toronto.
Valiquette had not played since being pulled after two periods in a start against the San Jose Sharks on October 19, a game the Rangers lost 7-3. Thursday was a big bounce-back night for the popular backup goaltender.
“When I’ve had bad games in the past, certainly no one feels worse about it than I do,” said Valiquette. “For 48 hours I beat myself up a little bit because I know that it’s going to be a while before I get back in there. I can only put my work in every day and get ready for my starts when I can, and just add value to the team any way I can.”
Christopher Higgins opened the scoring, netting his second goal in as many games after starting the season without a goal in his first 14 games. But that it was Higgins who scored the game’s first goal was no surprise based on the plethora of prime scoring chances the Long Island-born winger generated during the first period when he was clearly the best skater on the ice for either team.
On his first shift, just a bit more than one minute into the contest, Higgins flew past the Oilers defense for an in-close shot, and six minutes later he made a nifty inside-out move that featured gorgeous stickhandling and led to another excellent scoring opportunity from in-tight.
Finally at 15:28 of the first Higgins broke through against Khabibulin to give the Rangers a much-deserved 1-0 lead. Higgins and Matt Gilroy
-- who was also in the midst of an outstanding first period -- played give-and-go while skating past three Oilers on left wing, and Higgins finished with a one-timer that beat Khabibulin to the short side.
“I had a couple good chances off of the rush,” said Higgins, who tied Gaborik with a team-high six shots on goal. “On the goal Matty Gilroy made a nice give-and-go, kind of like the plays we made playing in the summer together.”
Another pretty passing play that resulted in a power play goal helped the Rangers double their advantage at 10:36 of the second period. Gaborik carried the puck over the blueline, spun a pass to Kotalik, who then fed an onrushing Michael Del Zotto
on left wing. Del Zotto then zipped a pass into the slot where Callahan redirected the puck perfectly past Khabibulin to put the Rangers up 2-0.
The goal was Callahan’s third of the season, and first in 11 games. It was also the Rangers’ first power play goal in five games, snapping a 0-12 drought.
“It was quite some vision by (Del Zotto),” Callahan said of his goal. “I was just going to the net and he finds me. All I have to do is put my stick out. It was a good play by him.”
After Lubomir Visnovsky roofed an in-tight backhand shot past Valiquette at 14:52 of the second, the Rangers struck again on the power play to move ahead by the score of 3-1.
Kotalik hammered a one-timer from left wing -- off a perfect cross-ice pass from Gaborik -- through Khabibulin’s five-hole for his sixth goal. It came seconds after Higgins nearly scored by driving hard to the net and whacking away at the puck along the goal line before the referee blew his whistle.
Both Higgins’ effort and the pretty sequence between Gaborik and Kotalik were symbolic of the Rangers’ overall game on Thursday. The Rangers were the harder-working team, diligent on the forecheck, as well as with their defensive play. And they skated with grace, displaying much skill with how well they moved the puck.
“I thought we played smart,” said Tortorella. “I thought we played hard. I thought our forechecking was much better. And I thought we played smart through the neutral zone. The effort has been there the past few games. Tonight, we found a way to score a couple goals.”
The one area they would not be pleased about was their taking three minor penalties in the first period -- and four by the six-minute mark of the second -- especially since two of those penalties were taken in the offensive zone.
However, even that negative was turned into a positive on this night as the Rangers were outstanding on the penalty kill, completely shutting down the Oilers at every turn. Defenseman Dan Girardi
blocked a string of shots while shorthanded, and his partner on the blueline, Marc Staal
, was also a pillar of strength. Team captain Chris Drury
was fantastic up front on the kills.
After Enver Lisin’s hooking penalty at 5:54 of the second, the Rangers did not take another penalty. Meanwhile the Rangers were handed six straight power plays by the Oilers to close out the game.
The Rangers will conclude their three-game swing through Western Canada when they skate against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. After that, the Rangers are off until next Thursday when they return to action to host the Atlanta Thrashers at Madison Square Garden.
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