Through the first eight games of the Rangers’ season, there was very little to write home about for forwards Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. After 65 minutes of hockey last night in Hockeytown, the three may have sat down to write Mom and Dad together.
“Brass”, “Benny” and “Zuccs” each scored for the first time this season, leading the Rangers to a 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings. Boarding the team bus, the three surely walked with shoulders held higher, the first-goal monkey shaken from their backs for good.
It had to happen at some point, and at what better time than on the final night of a 23-day, 9-game road trip. The time away from home was costly for the Rangers, who won just three times out of nine, but they left Detroit on a high note after coming from behind to steal one from their new Eastern Conference foes.
When Brassard slipped a shot through Jimmy Howard’s five hole late in overtime, the whole mood of the road trip changed for the banged-up Rangers. They beat a good Detroit team in a tough building to play in, and suddenly, after utter embarrassment on the west coast, found some self-worth in a city with very little.
Brassard, Pouliot and Zuccarello can certainly attest to that. It was a frustrating start to the season for the forward trio, who began the year playing on the same line and found little cohesion. They were separated after three games together, but the realignment did little to invigorate their legs. Combined, they had four points through eight games, failing to justify the ice time they were seeing.
Pouliot, for his part, was decidedly more noticeable than the other two, largely due to his involvement in the physical side of the game. By throwing his body around, he can seem to make a difference – albeit a small one – without producing offensively. But Brassard and Zuccarello are measured strictly in the points column, and four points through eight games between the two left fans asking for more.
As for the players themselves, the lack of offense left them with wilting confidence and tightly-gripped sticks. The harder you try to do your job, the more you think about it, and the more you think about it, the harder it becomes to do. With the lineup ravaged by injury and in desperate need of depth production, there was no one more disappointed with the play of Brassard, Pouliot and Zuccarello than Brassard, Pouliot and Zuccarello.
Last night finally let them breathe. It let them smile. It let them look to the heavens with a sigh of relief, thankful that they still know how to score, reassured that pucks will still go in. It let them forget the first eight games of this season, and wipe the slate clean. Now it’s time to start for real.
And that goes for this entire Rangers team. They got a much-needed win last night, and carry some momentum into Monday’s home opener. But they have to build on it. They have to take the confidence they found in Detroit – where they finally displayed some snarl and some fluidity at the same time – and let it pour through their play in the coming weeks.
There’s a hole to climb out of, but Brassard, Pouliot, Zuccarello and the Rangers can grab hold of the ladder with steadier hands.