The Rangers went to the shootout twice last week because they couldn't hold big leads in games against the Bruins and Islanders.
It was the clearest sign yet that this year's team had not yet discovered the overall committment for doing the unglamourous work that John Tortorella demands from the bench and that the NHL demands from its champions. The team wasn't soft, but they also weren't as willing to build their game from the defensive zone out, which was what they did last year on the way to the best record in the conference.
We're not sure if it was the sight of last year's playoff foes from Washington, the presence of USA Hockey officials as part of "Hockey Night in America" or just Tortorella finally getting through to his charges, but something clicked with the Rangers on Sunday night. The Capitals got a quick goal, but the Rangers dominated for the final 58 minutes or so by pulling out the old style and riding it hard.
Every check got finished, no Capitals skaters were allowed to bore in on Henrik Lundqvist all by themselves and the Rangers used that defensive superiority to spur on the rest of their game. Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan got goals -- another throwback, albeit one that Hagelin has had going for the last little bit -- and the Rangers took the 2-1 win.
What was most interesting about the win was the reminder that the Rangers were often the more physical and the more athletic team last season. The defensive pressure they applied allowed them to force turnovers that they could exploit with the speed that players like Hagelin bring to the table.
It was no different on Sunday. If not for Braden Holtby standing on his head for most of the evening, the Rangers were winning this game by six or seven goals because they were generating quality chance after quality chance.
Everything seemed to trickle down. The power play, so awful this year, clicked for good chances until Stepan's winner came off a sweet little pass from Michael Del Zotto and the Capitals never really threatened after their fluky opener put the Rangers in a brief 1-0 hole.
The Caps aren't a great team and the Rangers probably won't dictate the pace so easily every night, but they did on Sunday and that familiar feeling was a nice one after the run and gun Rangers flopped twice in a week.