Rangers changing soft rep that defined (and still irks) old-timers

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Regarding the Rangers, the most pleasantly surprising pro sports team in the area:

1. Tuesday it was Neal Pionk riding to the rescue of Filip Chytil, a couple of weeks ago it was Jesper Fast intervening on behalf of Pavel Buchnevich and in between those episodes there was Brady Skjei attempting to avenge a wrong done Mats Zuccarello.

You probably have noticed that none of the respondents is exactly Nick Fotiu.

A pack mentality has developed under David Quinn and it has been in force since the coach reprimanded his team in the wake of the same-old, same-old in the exhibition opener at New Jersey, in which no one answered Eric Gryba’s concussion-inducing headshot against Boo Nieves.

This all-for-one, one-for-all approach is not only in stark contrast to the bygone era under Alain Vigneault in which the Rangers turned more cheeks than a prison guard conducting strip searches, it is all but antithetical to the franchise’s historical pedigree. That is why it is so welcome.

There have been pockets of resistance throughout time and there have always been select players such as a Vic Hadfield, a Dave Maloney, a Fotiu, an Adam Graves, a Brandon Dubinsky, willing to take the lead in the protection racket. But these players represent the exception, not the rule, under a perpetuating overriding philosophy passed from one regime to the next.

Historically, the Rangers have worn white gloves to the party while opponents called Bobby Orr and the Animals and Broad Street Bullies have slipped into their brass knuckles. A pair of Cups got away in the early 70’s, and the one identifying incident with which Emile Francis’s teams have to live with forever is the Dale Rolfe-Dave Schultz bout in Game 7 of the 1974 semis in Philadelphia.

And, boy, does that irk those players no end. After I referenced it in the lead-up to the 2012 Winter Classic in Philly, I received an email from Brad Park in which, unsolicited, he explained why none of the players on the ice intervened, citing most prominently both Rolfe’s signal not to intercede and the specter of a game misconduct for being third-man-in. When I spoke to Hadfield last year, he explained it much the same way. And then, when talking to Pete Stemkowski a couple of weeks ago about the 1976-77 rebuilding experience, without prompting he brought it back to that May 5, 1974 afternoon at the Spectrum.

“I still hear about it,” Stemkowski said, more than 44 years later. “I still have to explain why. Vic’s hands were busted, for one. For another, Dale was 6-4, 220. It was the first period. We had to be smart about it. And we dominated the game anyway. [Bernie] Parent was the reason we lost, not that fight.”

Maybe. Probably. Right, almost certainly. But the legend endures. Even with John Tortorella behind the bench, there was always the possibility of a line brawl against the Devils but a sense that retaliation was not in the coach’s language.

That is why it seems so different now. Cody McLeod also responded on Tuesday when Max Domi (legally) clocked Chytil, but he picked up a double-minor for high sticking, a charging minor and 10-minute misconduct. That’s not what you want, as Joe — not Dan — Girardi would say, but it too is reflective of a mentality that has been absent on Broadway for decades.

2. So, how close is the one-two Mika Zibanejad-Kevin Hayes tandem to the Derek Stepan-Derick Brassard 1A/1B combination down the middle, and how much room for growth is there in the two centers?

More to the point, Hayes has been the Rangers’ best player — the Swedish goaltender, aside — since the start of last season. And the Blueshirts are going to flip him for a late first-rounder and a prospect rather than signing him to a long-term extension? I don’t think so.

3. I’d say I’m not quite sure I get this except that I am quite sure that I do not get it: McLeod leads team forwards with a 52.8 percent offensive-zone faceoff start rate, as per Naturalstattrick.com.

The dramatic shifts in deployment from Vigneault to Quinn: Brady Skjei’s o-zone rate dropping from 56 to 45.2; Hayes’ rate increasing from 42.6 to 50.5; Zibanejad’s rate decreasing from 53.4 to 43.9; and Mats Zuccarello’s rate decreasing from 49.8 to 40.5. And here’s one: Vlad Namestnikov’s o-zone rate is a team low (for forwards) 28.9.

4. Let’s just say that if the Rangers figure on riding Henrik Lundqvist, who has been at the top of his game, the ratio of 12 starts in 15 games equates to 66 overall, and needs correction.

5. All right, Cam Talbot is the Rangers’ best free-agent signing of an undrafted college player, but has Pionk showed enough after 41 games to move ahead of Jed Ortmeyer for second? Or are you in on Thomas Pock?

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