Throwdowns part of plan
Messages sent with early bouts
In the first period, after Alex Frolov’s goal gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead, coach Claude Julien sent out Shawn Thornton for the following faceoff. Thornton knew what he had to do: engage the NHL’s most fearsome fighter.
At 12:37, Thornton dropped the gloves with Derek Boogaard, the ex-Minnesota heavyweight with granite hands. Thornton checks in at 6 feet 2 inches, 217 pounds. Boogaard, who had danced with Toronto strongman Colton Orr in the previous game, has 5 inches and 48 pounds on Thornton.
Naturally, Thornton couldn’t go toe-to-toe with Boogaard and allow him to take advantage of his reach, strength, and punching power. So Thornton started the fight in close, landing short jabs while not allowing Boogaard to open up for any goodnight shots.
“Does that surprise you?’’ Thornton replied when asked about his heady approach. “He’s arguably the toughest guy in the league. You try to fight smart. You have be a bit more careful with a guy like that.’’
The fight appeared to grab the attention of Thornton’s teammates, who responded by keeping the puck out of the net for the rest of the first period.
“For Thorny, it was maybe about sending a message to his team that, ‘Listen, I’ll go after their biggest guy and their toughest guy,’ ’’ Julien said. “Hopefully he’s trying to get a spark into the team and get it going. So he did it. He did his job and he does his job well.’’
Thornton’s scrap was one of three first-period throwdowns. The first fight took place after Mark Stuart thumped a head-down, puck-carrying Ruslan Fedotenko in the neutral zone. Sean Avery didn’t like the hit and came after Stuart. The defenseman obliged and pumped Avery with three straight rights. Both players were called for fighting. Avery drew an additional instigating and misconduct.
“It seems like that’s the new trend in the NHL,’’ Julien said. “As soon as there’s a good hit thrown, a teammate’s jumping in to defend them. That was a good hit at the blue line. Certainly not worthy of a penalty. Whatever happened afterward, that’s fine. If [Rangers coach John Tortorella] likes his guys sticking up for each other, I have no issues with that. Our guy took care of himself very well. So you’re not going to get any complaints from my end.’’
At 15:17 of the first, Brandon Prust asked Milan Lucic to go. Lucic agreed but took a heavy right to start the fight. During the scrap, Prust jabbed Lucic’s left eye with an accidental finger.
“It’s been good,’’ said Stuart. “Actually pretty similar. They’re both pretty calm back there. Rotations are going well. At first, Houds said he was trying to learn. It’s got to be a challenge to go from up there to the bench — getting guys out there, the rotations, matching up, things like that. It’s got to be a completely different thing for him. But I think it’s worked really well so far.’’
In the back-to-back games against Washington, Houda scrambled to get the proper matchups against Alex Ovechkin. Last night, after Johnny Boychuk was lost following the first period, Houda had to manage a five-man rotation. Zdeno Chara led the charge with 31:48 of ice time.
“Obviously Z’s out there all the time,’’ said Andrew Ference. “For the other four of us, it’s just an increased workload. We’re obviously trying to fill some of that ice time. But other than that, we all play with each other. I think we’re all used to playing with each other.’’