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Boyle is one Rangers forward who's moving ahead

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, homegrown talents such as Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal. But Boyle has become a key player by working hard and doing what's been asked.

"Honestly, when camp started, he was on the outside looking in," John Tortorella said of Boyle. "He put in his work during the summer and he's been able to give some things."

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

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

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 29 shots. Frolov has two on 24 shots, and his confidence to play in all zones seems to be eroding.

He couldn't 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 many other recent summer additions, has stagnated, unable to find a role.

"When you can't score, you have to do the other stuff," Tortorella said tersely when asked about Frolov. "I thought we were controlling the period to that point. It's an easy [chip] out at the blue line and we don't get it out."

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 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 has company. Ruslan Fedotenko seems to grow more invisible with each game. Erik Christensen, busted down to fourth-line duty last night, may be playing only because the Rangers lack any center depth.

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

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