In the Rangers’ 5-4 dramatic win over the Blue Jackets, Michael Grabner scored the game-winner with 16.5 seconds left on Saturday. Originally, the team’s leading goalscorer had two goals and an assist in the come from behind victory at Columbus.
However, that was changed. The NHL has credited him with a hat trick. His second of the season and first since 10/30 against Tampa. As it turned out, Adam Clendening’s second of the game which tied it was changed. He fired a shot from a bad angle past now waived Columbus backup Curtis McElhinney which tied the contest at four with 6:03 left in regulation. However, the replay showed that Grabner got a piece of it while in front of McElhinney.
So, the Rangers’ fourth goal of that game now reads Grabner from Clendening and Oscar Lindberg. Jesper Fast lost an assist. The play wouldn’t have been possible without Fast’s hard work along the boards keeping the puck alive on a sustained forecheck. Unfortunate for him that he loses a point. No one works harder.
Instead of leading the team with 18 goals, the streaky Grabner is now up to 19 thru the first 42 games. An astonishing number when you consider that he totaled 17 over the last two seasons with the Islanders and Maple Leafs. His next goal would give him 20. A mark he hasn’t reached since his second seasons with the Islanders in ’11-12.
It was during his rookie year with the Islanders after they claimed him off waivers from the Panthers that the speedy Grabner stunned the hockey world by scoring a career high 34 goals and 52 points in ’10-11. He did it by using his blazing speed to score in transition. He also was lethal shorthanded scoring six times on the penalty kill. His penalty kill work has continued to be superb for the Blueshirts who rank 10th in the NHL at 83.0 percent which is tied with San Jose. A marked improvement from last season.
When general manager Jeff Gorton signed him, it was with the idea that Grabner could help give the penalty kill a boost while supplying much needed depth on the fourth line. He’s exceeded expectations by sometimes getting time on the top line. However, he’s mostly been used on the third or fourth line by Alain Vigneault depending on how he’s going. Prior to his two goals in a win over the Flyers, he had only scored twice since 11/21.
In consecutive road victories over Philadelphia and Columbus, Grabner went 5-2-7 with a plus-eight rating. Astonishingly, all 19 of his goals have come at even strength which lead the league. One more than rookie Auston Matthews and two better than Sidney Crosby. For his effort, Grabner was named the First Star of the Week beating out Patrick Maroon and Braden Holtby.
If we were to grade Grabner, it would be the highest mark of A-plus. A credit to Gorton for a strong off-season that included also stealing top three defenseman Nick Holden from the Avalanche for just a fourth round pick. Along with signing free agent rookie Jimmy Vesey and trading Derick Brassard to the Senators in exchange for Mika Zibanejad, it’s been a banner year for Gorton. Brandon Pirri was a key factor early too.
Without the additions which bolstered their depth, the Rangers aren’t locked in a tight battle for first in the Metro Division with division-leading Columbus (60 points), defending champ Pittsburgh (57) and Washington (55). At the break, their 28 victories are tied with the Blue Jackets for the most in the NHL. Their 57 points tie them with the Penguins despite playing three more games. The Caps also have three extra games left. So, the Rangers could be in fourth by the time they resume play Friday at MSG when they host Toronto.
Regardless, it’s been a superb first half. They’ve managed to do it even with Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein struggling and Henrik Lundqvist even having an un-King like .912 save percentage. The Blueshirts rank second in offense behind the Pens averaging 3.43 goals-per-game. Not coincidentally, Pittsburgh, New York and Columbus are the league’s highest scoring teams.
We’ll leave you with this awesome call from ESPN Radio’s Don LaGreca of Grabner’s exciting winner with Dave Maloney cheer leading in the background. Pretty amusing. 😉