It's easy to forget sometimes, with the hard-nosed way these Rangers play, that they are, by and large, still a bunch of kids. Especially at the heart of the team.
Brandon Dubinsky is 24. He's had moments in his four-plus seasons here that have infuriated two coaches, stretches of play in which his head has swelled a bit after a couple of good games and left him drifting for days on end, no help to anyone.
Those days are gone now, even if the Rangers aren't exactly overpowering teams. Through an eight-game stretch without a point, Dubinsky kept working, kept staying in coach John Tortorella's good graces and kept earning the 20 minutes a night he's become used to playing.
"He's been one of the hardest-working guys we've had - it's not always smart, but that's part of understanding what it takes," Tortorella said.
Dubinsky's first shift yesterday was hard-working and smart. He got the puck below the Flyers' goal line, stopped, reversed direction and left Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn a step behind. Dubinsky's backhand flick toward the net was stuffed in by Ryan Callahan, the first of Callahan's four goals in the 7-0 rout.
Callahan added an assist for a record-setting day, but no one worries about what he brings every game.
There has been worry over Dubinsky, though. He's become the most important forward on this Rangers team as its go-to faceoff man, one of its top penalty-killers and a power-play contributor. He's also a leader, along with Callahan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, all 20-something guys who have to have the team pulling in the same direction to get results like Sunday's.
"We play the most and we're relied upon for every situation," Dubinsky said. "It's important we're there every night, that we're not taking any nights off, even if we're not getting results."
Marian Gaborik returned after missing six games, and though the crowd at Madison Square Garden barely murmured through the first few shifts of the star forward's return, they were screaming "Doooob!" every time Dubinsky hopped the boards. Especially after the latest installment of his fight series with Flyers captain Mike Richards, a one-sided affair in Dubinsky's favor in the second period.
"I think that's four or five with him now," Dubinsky said.
Even that part of Dubinsky's game is crucial to his and the team's success. It shows how engaged he is, how fighting the opposing team's captain and one of its leading scorers is more than just a young guy sticking up for himself.
It's Dubinsky setting a tone, as he did with that first shift that produced his first point in three weeks.
"His fight was a very important part of the game today," Tortorella said. "He's still a young man on this team, and we heap a lot of responsibility on him."
Dubinsky also knows that with 14 games left and the playoff chase crowding around the Rangers, there's no time left for slumps. His line, with Callahan and Artem Anisimov, is going to be matched against opposing top lines and be counted on to produce, as it did Sunday.
"If there's a time to go through that stretch [of not scoring], hopefully it's past," Dubinsky said. "This is when the team needs me the most."