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Boyle, unlike many Rangers forwards, not going backward

Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers celebrates

Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers celebrates his second goal against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 9, 2010) Credit: Getty Images

It was certainly a strange night at Madison Square Garden. Brandon Dubinsky fought and didn't score; Derek Boogaard scored, for the first time in almost five years, and didn't fight.

But it was not a strange night for Brian Boyle. His two-goal first period was yet another step forward for a player who, had he become a Ranger in a different era, would have gotten here and stayed the same.

Or worse, regressed.

Boyle doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the Rangers' young core, the homegrown talents such as Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal. But Boyle has become a key player by working hard and simply doing what's been asked.

His two goals, both from in close on quick-release shots that seemed to surprise Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth, stood in contrast to some other Rangers who haven't gotten better since they arrived.

Most notable among them is Alex Frolov, a late free-agent addition this summer who came in on a "prove it" deal of one year and $3 million. Frolov so far is proving to be only a frustration for fans and for John Tortorella, who wants Frolov to think about shooting the puck and gave him plenty of chances last night to do so.

Frolov was out for the bulk of a 1:40 five-on-three in the first period, but he spent too much time in the right circle sizing up the perfect shot instead of letting a few go.

Soon after the two-man advantage ended, Boyle grabbed a turnover and fired a shot past Neuvirth. Boyle doesn't shoot a ton, either, but he has seven goals on 27 shots. Frolov has two goals on 24 shots, and his confidence to play in all zones seems to be eroding.

He could not chip the puck out of the Rangers' zone during a long shift in the third, and the puck ended up behind Henrik Lundqvist for the deciding goal in a 5-3 loss. Frolov, like some other recent summer additions (Christopher Higgins, Ales Kotalik and many, many more), has stagnated, unable to find a role.

Boyle, on the other hand, is thriving because he heard what Tortorella wanted heading into this past offseason. The coach wanted his 6-7 center to use his size more, either to create space in the offensive zone or clear it in the defensive zone.

After a summer spent working with former Olympic skater Barbara Underhill, Boyle is stronger on his skates, stronger on the puck and more likely to just let it go.

His seven goals have him among the top 20 scorers in the league; that's a surprise, given his 12 career goals coming into this season.

It will be a bigger surprise if he can maintain such a scoring pace. But he is a better player, challenged to do so by Tortorella and a main reason the Rangers are even a .500 team without Marian Gaborik.

Frolov - and Ruslan Fedotenko, who made the team on a tryout but seems to get more and more invisible with each game - is not helping, not accepting the challenge from his coach to keep it simple and step forward to make an impact.

The Rangers have one forward who has improved this season. They could use a few more.

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