Rangers Hang On To Move Into First Place

Going into tonight, the Rangers knew if they got two points, they would be first in the Metropolitan division. Get two points against a team that is probably going to be drafting either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Sounds easy, right? This is the Rangers. We should all know better.

I knew from the start this was a trap game. Rangers had points in nine games before this one while the Coyotes were on a seven game losing streak. That said, I didn’t expect a goal in the first minute but there was Marc Staal handing the puck to the Coyotes for them to snipe one past Cam Talbot for the early 1-0 lead. The sad part?

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The Rangers somehow won all three of those games but realistically, that can’t last. Goals in the first minute are bad boys. Unless you are scoring them into the opposing net.

Good news was the goal did give the Rangers a little extra jump as they got numerous chances to tie the game over the next few minutes. Unfortunately for them Mike Smith chose tonight to look like a NHL goaltender, robbing Tanner Glass and J.T. Miller. (Side note: Glass really had a great game with a number of prime chances to get his first goal of the season.)

Six and a half minutes into the period, the Coyotes took the first penalty of the game. It took most of the power play but the Rangers finally had enough control of the puck to make them pay as Chris Kreider buried one off a feed from Kevin Hayes.

The teams looked pretty even for the next eight minutes, which probably wasn’t a good sign for the Rangers. But with four minutes remaining they got into penalty trouble and it cost them. First it was Marty St. Louis with a trip in the offensive zone. Then halfway through that kill, Kevin Klein threw the puck down the ice. Unfortunately it went right over the glass on the other side of the ice so he got to join St. Louis in the penalty box.

By the time the two would come out, it would be 3-1 Coyotes. I could talk about the goals but simply put, the Coyotes power play outplayed the Rangers penalty kill and were rewarded for it. The good news was there was less than a minute remaining in the period at that point so the Rangers had a chance to take intermission to gather themselves.

Not sure if it worked but the good news was they didn’t let up a goal in the first minute. In fact, the first goal of the period went to the Rangers five and a half minutes in as John Moore wristed one on net that was tipped by Lee Stempniak past Smith to cut the deficit to one. Not going to lie, I thought Moore scored it and was so happy for him to finally get one. I guess we’ll both have to stand for another assist.

Prior to the goal, the Rangers got a little bit of a scare as J.T. Miller was hit by a Klein shot and limped back to the bench followed by Ryan McDonagh attempting to glove an Ekman-Larsson shot. Fortunately both players were able to shake it off and not miss a shift.

But things can’t be all good as shortly past the halfway mark, Kevin Klein took his second penalty of the night – a double minor for high sticking. My initial reaction wasn’t so much that the Rangers would have to kill another long penalty or that one of their best penalty killers was in the penalty box. No, my initial reaction was “crap, a defenseman took a penalty which means Dan Boyle has to penalty kill”. And he did but this time he managed to keep the puck out of his net.

In fact, the Rangers managed to keep the puck completely away from their net as they put on a penalty-killing clinic in not allowing the Coyotes to get a single shot over the four minutes. MSG asked if that would be the game changer. I think the only affect it had was that the Coyotes couldn’t extend their lead as it didn’t change the way the Rangers played.

With a little over a minute to go, the Coyotes took a dumb holding penalty. The Rangers almost put it into the empty net vacated by Talbot and then passed it around in front of the net almost asking for the Coyotes to tip it in. Fortunately they finally just gave up the puck to get the whistle.

I figured with it being a split power play, that it would be a power kill. And it looked that way as after a scramble, Rick Nash batted the puck down with a high stick causing the whistle to be blown and the faceoff to be all the way in the Rangers zone with only seconds remaining. The Coyotes were up in arms as they felt their should’ve been a penalty on the Rangers right before that play. They were right as Derick Brassard got away with a high stick that should have been another double minor.

So the puck dropped with 19 seconds to go in the period and I’m thinking there’s no time to do anything. I forgot Chris Kreider doesn’t need time. The Coyotes won the faceoff and batted it to center ice where Kreider picked it up and raced in on Smith. The Coyotes netminder made the initial save but Kreider got his own rebound to knot the game at three with 12 seconds to go. I know Carl Hagelin is fast but I don’t think it’s a question anymore which Rangers player is fastest. It’s easily Kreider.

Smith was so pissed at the goal that he slammed his stick on the post snapping it in half. Apparently that’s a penalty now as he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct putting the Rangers right back on the power play. And while the Rangers had chances to start the third, they couldn’t go 3-for-3 on the night.

The teams traded chances throughout the third period and it looked like we were headed to overtime. But with a little over two minutes remaining, a scramble around the Coyotes crease allowed the puck to make it’s way to Lee Stempniak who managed to get it just inside the post to give the Rangers the lead. At that point, I still thought we were headed to overtime.

And that didn’t change a minute later when Marty St. Louis took his second penalty of the night. (It was a night of twos, two guys with two goals and two guys with two penalties.) The Coyotes pulled Smith to make it a 6-on-4 and would the Rangers throw the puck towards the empty net? Of course not. Instead they scrambled for a minute and a half praying the puck never went in the net. Fortunately for them it didn’t. Ryan McDonagh looked at Dan Girardi when the buzzer sounded with a look that almost asked “is it over?” Yes Ryan, it was over. Your team won again.

I really don’t know how they do it, although I’m guessing this one will go in the latter category for Kreider in regards to how happy they are with their current streak. (During the first intermission, he was asked if the team was happy with their game after getting points in nine straight. He said “yes and no” admitting they probably won a few they shouldn’t have. Tonight was one of those.)

Next up, the Rangers head to Philly to take on a Flyers team that needs every point they can get. Recap for that game will be delayed as I am venturing to Philly for the evening. If nothing else, I plan to write what it’s like being a blueshirts fan surrounded by orange. Wish me luck. Until then, enjoy this beautiful image, Rangers fans:

standings

 

(Photo at top: Melissa Andus)

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Prince Cam Helps Rangers Shutout Flames

Over the past week or so, there has been a lot of talk about the play of Cam Talbot. While the Rangers have been winning, he’s been giving up three goals a night which has led a lot of people to believe the wins wouldn’t last. Tonight, Talbot put those talks on hold as he stopped every shot he faced. It’s a good thing he did because the Rangers only scored once after having scored at least four in those previous games. They always say all you need to do is score one more than the other team and the Rangers keep doing that.

Earlier in the day, Vigneault mentioned that a couple of guys were questionable with flu-like symptoms so he wouldn’t know lineup until game time. Then rumors began that Oscar Lindberg would be called up and eventually, about three hours before game time, he was and would be making his NHL debut. In doing so, he would be the first Rangers ever (yes, ever) to wear #48. I find that kind of amazing considering how many years of history we’re talking about. Of course due to cap, he was sent right back after the game but I thought he looked alright in minimal minutes. Curious if he will actually leave New York though.

But the question of who was out was still unknown. When warmups started, Rick Nash didn’t take the ice. Then the Rangers announced this:

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Ugh. Flu-like symptoms I can handle. That’s a day or two and then it’s forgotten about. Neck spasms are a lot more worrisome. Here’s to hoping he truly is day-to-day and is back soon. (Side note: From the moment Lindberg was recalled I had this feeling it was Nash out. I just thought he had the flu.) After the game, Vigneault said it was due to him sleeping weird. If that is the case, he’ll be fine. That said, I won’t believe it until I see him back on the ice.

As for the game, the Rangers came out flying and drew a penalty just 95 seconds into the period. And the start of the power play looked good, probably because the second unit was on the ice. In fact, they would’ve been the only unit on the ice for that power play if not for Kari Ramo who absolutely robbed J.T. Miller. There really is no other way to say it. Watch:

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Yes, we’ll be seeing that one a lot unfortunately. Of course because that happened, the other unit got a chance and the remainder of the man advantage was a power kill.

But still, the Rangers kept momentum and had the first six shots on net over the first seven and a half minutes. A few minutes later the shot totals were tied at six because this is the Rangers and that’s what they do. The latter part of the period was the two teams trading chances (and giveaways, as the Rangers were credited with eight but they may have had more) but both goalies were up to the task to get to intermission with no score. The Rangers really tried to change that in the last minute as they were almost asking Calgary to score against them. I was just hoping that didn’t care over to the second.

It didn’t but the good defensive play by both teams did leading to another scoreless period. I really don’t have much to say about the middle frame. Miller got into his first career fight for some random reason (I honestly have no idea what led to it) and held his own, I guess. Otherwise, it was similar to watching a period of playoff hockey. Good defense, not a lot of offense.

Heading into the third all they kept mentioning was how good the Flames are in the final frame. (They are second in goals scored and first in goals allowed with a +31 goal differential.) Knowing what we do about the way the Rangers have played third periods recently, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one concerned.

Exactly three minutes in, Derick Brassard forced a turnover in the Flames zone and made one of his terrific cross ice passes to Kevin Hayes who didn’t hesitate in blasting it past Ramo to get the Rangers on the board.

At that point, I just prayed they didn’t fall into their usual defensive shell. And while they only attempted offense for a couple of minutes, it wasn’t a complete defensive shell. The result? They were actually able to hold on to the lead and win the game 1-0. To be honest, they were due as they had lost the previous two games this season in which they entered the third tied at zero.

So what does it mean? Well they didn’t gain any ground on the Islanders as they won tonight as well. But they didn’t lose any either and that can’t be underestimated. Honestly, I think the team needed a game like this after how many goals they had been letting up recently. It lets them and the league know that they can play low scoring games just as well as high scoring ones. Next up, the Arizona Coyotes. That should be a high scoring one…for one team. This win would mean nothing if they blow that game.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Almost End Streak Vs. Blue Jackets

The Rangers never make things easy. I know this because I’ve been a fan all my life but just one day I want them to surprise me. One day, I want them to actually make it easy to watch a game. Not watch them stop playing after they gain a three goal lead. Or watch them loaf through a third period while the opposition pours it on. One day I want to see them play a full 60 minutes. I know, I’m asking for a lot.

I also don’t want to hear after the game how they’re not happy with their play. Sometimes the opposition dominates you and there’s nothing you can do. In the Rangers case, most times that’s not what happens. They allow the opposition to dominate. If they’re that upset about it, then do something to fix it. I’ll give credit to the opposition sometimes but most times, they don’t help their cause. Like tonight.

The game started well as the Rangers looked to have their legs against a team that played and traveled (from Canada no less) last night. I watched as Dan Girardi gave an extra shove to Scott Hartnell as he went to the bench early in the period and laughed. I really wonder if those two hate each other or if it’s more a respect battle between them.

Then roughly six minutes into the period, Carl Hagelin kept the puck alive on the line and tipped it to Kevin Hayes who faked and rifled it past McElhinney to start the scoring. Two minutes later, Derek Stepan went around the net and set up Marty St. Louis for a one timer he wasn’t missing now that he has his groove back. (He absolutely would’ve hit the post on that shot two weeks ago.)

At that point, the Rangers looked to be in control and were able to take a 2-0 lead into intermission even though they had to kill two penalties. (The Garden crowd didn’t like either call but I couldn’t figure out why. Both were penalties.) Cam Talbot almost gave one away with a misplay behind the net but somehow got back in time to stop the shot. When I tell you the entire Garden held their breath, I’m not exaggerating. It took us all a minute or two to get over that play.

The highlight of the period, though, was on a late stoppage when they put Mackenzie Skapski on the score board with a note about him gaining his first NHL win. The entire crowd cheered and when he realized why, the smile on his face could have lit up the entire building. He looked down the bench almost to ask what he should do but you could tell he was loving every second of it. Absolutely adorable.

Anyway, just over a minute into the second period, Stepan got the puck to Ryan McDonagh who found St. Louis starring at a wide open net. For some reason St. Louis hesitated but he still got the shot off before McElhinney got over to give the Rangers a 3-0 lead. And that’s when everything changed.

Less than a minute later, they would give one back as Marko Dano would get the Blue Jackets on the board. I remember watching him in World Juniors a few years ago and knew he would be a star. He looked real good on the ice tonight.

The Rangers would get two back to back power kills midway through the period and we all said when they didn’t score that it would burn them. Sure enough it did as ex-Ranger Artem Anisimov got the Jackets within one with less than two minutes remaining in the period. For some reason the Garden crowd booed the goal announcement. I didn’t get it as I have nothing against Anisimov and don’t see why other Rangers fans would. (They didn’t boo the Dano goal so it wasn’t as if they were booing non-Ranger goals.) Anyway, he was flying as well tonight.

Somehow the Rangers would get out of the period with a lead and I immediately thought of that stat – the one where the Rangers have no regulation losses in the regular season in a lot of games when leading after 40. (The one loss you see mentioned in the stats came in the playoffs. Unless I’m missing one. But I’m pretty sure the record ended when they lost in regulation against the Bruins in the playoffs.)

And how did the Rangers come out to play the third? The same way they have been for weeks. By praying the opposition had nothing left to push back. I don’t know where the Jackets found the energy but they definitely looked like they wanted it more. Not sure how it took them almost 16 minutes to get the tying goal but they did finally get it. After that the Rangers held on for dear life and managed to get the game into overtime.

What pissed me off more is they only had one shot on net the entire period and it was a soft wrister from the slot that had no chance of going in. After McElhinney took a dive to draw a goalie interference penalty just five minutes into the period, you would think the Rangers would try to test him. Especially when the crowd booed heavily every time he touched the puck. (Honestly, it takes a lot for me to call out a dive. McElhinney deserved an Oscar for that performance. But the referees fell for it. Fortunately the Rangers killed the penalty.)

Just nine seconds into overtime, Tyutin took down St. Louis and the referees decided to call that penalty. (They missed a lot as the game went on.) Tyutin argued it but from what I saw, I’m not sure why. He clearly took down St. Louis. Maybe he thought they both should go? Anyway, the Rangers got the power play and did exactly what you would expect with it – nothing. They had zone time but they just passed the puck around the perimeter. It was honestly embarrassing. And the Jackets got a shorthanded chance as well that luckily Talbot saved.

The remainder of overtime was chances back and forth that had me holding my breath way too much for a random game in February. I swear they are preparing fans for the playoffs when we will be holding out breath for 60 minutes every night. The best part? The Rangers had six shots in overtime. Six. They had one the previous twenty. I seriously don’t understand this team.

The teams ended up in a shootout where the Rangers went with St. Louis, J.T. Miller and Rick Nash. The random name on that list didn’t score (to the surprise of no one as none of us could figure out that one) but fortunately the other two did and only one shot made it past Talbot to give the home team the win. (The MVP chants from the crowd after the Nash goal was a nice touch.)

There is part of me that wants to say they didn’t deserve the win but I’m just going to be happy with the two points and move on. But they really need to work on this crap. Giving up three goals, blowing leads, not playing third periods…this stuff won’t work in two months. I just hope they are getting it out of their systems now so they don’t do it when it really counts.

By the way, the win put them within two points of the first place Islanders (who lost tonight) with three games in hand. Get your act together boys and winning the division is a definite possibility.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Win In Mackenzie Skapski’s NHL Debut

There is nothing like a game against a much weaker opponent to get your game back on track. I say that with no disrespect to the Sabres as those players have all made it to the NHL and belong in the NHL. But watching them play the Rangers tonight was similar to watching men play against boys. There really was no comparison. And that’s why Vigneault’s goalie decision made sense.

From the moment Mackenzie Skapski was called up, Alain Vigneault made it clear he would not see the ice during a game. Apparently a couple of shaky starts from Cam Talbot changes things. That said, I think I could’ve played net against the Sabres through most of this game and won…and I can’t skate. Granted the 18 skaters in front of Skapski definitely helped. I’m sure Talbot must love to now know what it feels like to be Lundqvist.

The only other change was the carousel on defense continued as Matt Hunwick went in for John Moore. Usually I say this is no big deal but today it bothered me. Why? Because I thought Moore not only looked fine but actually looked good against the Canucks. He was active in the offensive zone and I honestly never noticed him in the defensive zone. And he ended the night with almost 17 minutes so he had to be there at some point. I don’t understand what Vigneault is doing with these two.

Anyway, onto the game.

The Rangers welcomed Skapski to the NHL by starting the game the same way they did the last two games – losing the opening faceoff and allowing the opposition to get a quick opportunity. This time, Skapski made the save and stopped play but on the ensuing faceoff, Marc Staal handed the puck over near the net, two passes by the Sabres and it was in the back of the net for an early Sabres lead. How early? Well Talbot still has the record for the week as this one was 14 seconds in. I’m sure that’s just what Skapski had in mind.

After that, the Rangers got better and managed to keep the puck away from the young goaltender for the remainder of the period. Shortly before the six minute mark, J.T. Miller found Carl Hagelin streaking into the zone and the speedster put the puck five hole to tie the game.

A minute later, Derek Stepan was sent into the boards by Zach Bogosian. There was no call on the play (although there should have been) and Stepan was slow to get to the bench. Fortunately his only injury was a cut above his left eye. Unfortunately for him and the Rangers, they couldn’t attend to it on the bench and Stepan was forced to go back to the locker room for treatment for most of the period. He did return though.

With five and a half minutes remaining, Bogosian wasn’t able to get away with another one as he retaliated against Rick Nash and was called for roughing. Fifteen seconds later the Sabres put the puck over the glass and the Rangers had an extended 5-on-3. This was where they missed Stepan as while they had chances, the power play really didn’t generate much.

But it did help them keep the puck away from Skapski who reportedly faced six shots in the period. I have no idea when half of them took place but he saved five of them.

The Rangers took the lead early as Derick Brassard made a beautiful cross ice pass to Rick Nash who quickly one-timed one giving the Rangers a 2-1 lead just 37 seconds into the second period. Nash getting his 37th goal at the 37-second mark has a nice ring to it.

Seven minutes later, it was that line again as this time Brassard sprung Nash. He hit the post but it left a juicy rebound for Mats Zuccarello to put into the empty net for a 3-1 lead. The Rangers were lucky as right before the goal Ryan McDonagh attempted to give the puck away right near Skapski. Fortunately his defense partner bailed him out and the Rangers were able to regain control and head up the ice. Honestly other than a play like that here and there, the score should’ve been even higher at that point with the way the Sabres and their goaltender were playing.

The Sabres would get a power kill seven minutes later but they didn’t even manage a shot on goal so it’s not really worth mentioning. And while the Rangers penalty kill did it’s job, they didn’t have to do much. At the end of the period, the Sabres reportedly had another six shots on net. I know a couple came in the last minute so maybe that one is accurate? Either way, it was an easy night for Skapski through two.

Skapski did have to work a little bit in the third as the Sabres put 13 shots on net but the kid was up to the task and walked away with his first NHL victory.

I’ll be honest and admit that I questioned Vigneault placing him in tonight. Not because I thought he wasn’t ready as I had no clue. I was going by what I was hearing from the team and they didn’t sound confident in him just yet. That said, I get the premise of if they were going to give him a game, this was the one to do it. The Sabres are going to be really good very soon, especially once they add McDavid or Eichel this summer. They just aren’t anywhere near there yet.

Either way, I guess someone was happy this game got postponed from earlier in the season as the kid now has a memory to last a lifetime. That said, unless Lundqvist is out longer than we expect, I don’t expect to see him in net again this year. Well unless he plays when the Rangers head back to Buffalo next month. Congrats on your first win, Mackenzie!

Rangers Fall In Shootout To Canucks

I’m going to be completely honest – I knew the Rangers were in trouble the moment they scored first. Why? Because Sam Rosen made it a point to say how great the Rangers had been this season when scoring first and mentioned their 27-5-2 record going into tonight. Yes it’s a superstition but whenever MSG makes that big of a point about a stat like that, it usually doesn’t end well. Make it 27-5-3. At least they got to overtime.

The game started almost the same as the Rangers game two nights ago with the Canucks getting a chance in the first 10 seconds off an opening faceoff win. The difference? This time Talbot made the save. They got another quick chance and then the Rangers took over. It makes you wonder what could’ve happened on Monday had Tavares not scored on that turnover.

Honestly, I really thought I was going to have to write another “well that period happened” paragraph about the first period. I still can as there wasn’t really much to talk about. But something did happen.

Eleven and a half minutes into the period, the Rangers got the puck up the ice where Dan Girardi got off a one timer. Miller made the save but the Rangers kept control as Girardi got his own rebound along the boards. The defenseman quickly found Marty St. Louis behind the net, who just as quickly passed it to Derek Stepan in the slot. I’m not sure what is going on but for the second game in a row, Stepan shot the puck. And lo and behold, it went in the net. See what happens when you shoot, Derek? He really needs to do that more often. Anyway, the puck went in and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead.

The boys kept control of the puck for the remainder of the period but Miller was up to the task so it was only a one goal lead heading into intermission. The home team did outshoot the visitors 14-1 over the final 17:15 of the period so the hope was the Canucks didn’t wake up in the second. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened.

I wouldn’t say the Canucks looked fantastic in the second period but they looked a million times better than they did in the first. And it was no surprise when they tied the game less than two minutes into the period. After the goal Ryan McDonagh was complaining about something. I’m still not sure what (someone said he may have been slashed) but all I saw was him tying down a guy behind the net and then standing there as the rest of the play developed. Obviously no one else on the ice was innocent as it was a comedy of errors that led to the goal but the complaining just pissed me off.

The two teams went back and forth with chances over the next nine minutes but both goalies were up to the task. That was until Derick Brassard made a beautiful pass to find a streaking Rick Nash. Not many goalies have been able to stop him with the way he has been playing this year and Miller was no different giving the Rangers back the lead.

But the Rangers don’t make anything easy as just 2:18 later, we were tied again. My guess is Girardi was blamed for playing the odd man rush badly. Or everyone is blaming the forwards for not getting back to cover. I can agree with all of that but McDonagh isn’t off the hook. Yes, I’m going to be hard on him. Here’s the thing – he’s had such an up and down year that until he strings a couple of games together, he needs to keep it simple and play defense. Pinch when he can but otherwise, play defense. Instead he’s been trying to do everything and was on the ice for both goals against. Drives me crazy.

The Rangers would get a power kill late in the period but other than Mats Zuccarello trying to fight Alex Burrows (I will miss that guy if he leaves), that would be all the action of the middle frame allowing the teams to go to intermission tied.

Then there was the third period. I think that period was punishment to me for saying the first was boring.

It started just seven seconds in when Burrows lined up and then challenged Chris Kreider. After a couple of cross checks Kreider had enough and basically wiped the floor with Burrows. I’m glad the kid can throw a punch (and he picked a perfect guy to do it to) but I didn’t like him fighting there. It just felt like it would help the Canucks more than the Rangers.

The Rangers got a power play from the play due to the original cross checks but they killed that and took a penalty of their own towards the end. The Canucks took the lead on the ensuing power play and I basically threw my hands in the air at the way the period was going. But somehow 90 seconds later, the Rangers had the lead again.

First it was a switch of the first goal as Derek Stepan sent Marty St. Louis in to tie the game. Just 21 seconds later, Carl Hagelin deflected a Dan Girardi shot and the Garden was jumping as the Rangers were back ahead.

There was just one problem. There was still over 14 minutes to play in the third. The Canucks had a great opportunity over a horrible Kreider turnover shortly after they took the lead but somehow the puck stayed out of the net. I think Cam Talbot had it the whole time and after the game, he said he did. Marc Staal did dive onto the goal line and there are some who say he made a save to keep it out of the net. Either way, it stayed out.

But of course the Rangers backed into “defend and pray” mode. The second part lasted roughly ten minutes. At that point the Rangers got caught in their zone and were forced to ice the puck. They called their timeout but it didn’t matter as those guys were gassed and got caught again leading to a two and a half minute shift for McDonagh, Girardi, Hayes, Hagelin and Moore. They finally got the puck out but only to center leading to a horrible change and the game tying goal seconds later. I honestly felt bad for the five players scrambling on the ice that ended up with the minus. (I know plus/minus means nothing but they shouldn’t be blamed for that goal in any way.)

At that point, with exactly two minutes remaining, I just prayed for overtime. Somehow the Rangers got there. And overtime was…interesting. A lot of back and forth led to some nail biting moments but I had a feeling from before the period started, the Rangers were due for a shootout. And to the shootout they went.

I’m not going to write much about the shootout. The Rangers first two shooters shot right into Miller, the Canucks first two shooters fired right past Talbot and game was over. Honestly I think the Rangers thought the final forty was going to be as easy as the first twenty and couldn’t adjust when it wasn’t. They weren’t pulling off two crazy games in a row so they were lucky to take a point in this one.

The funny thing is the part that bothers me the most is the goals against. Cam Talbot hasn’t been Henrik Lundqvist but defensively, the Rangers have just been too relaxed at times. Specifically the top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. I couldn’t figure out how they were both a plus-1 tonight until I looked at the game sheet and saw they were on for six of the eight goals scored (technically seven if you count the shift they got caught out on). Those two have to be better.

Good news is they have a chance to do that right away as the boys are headed to Buffalo as I type this. (Funny part is that game wasn’t originally on the schedule as tomorrow is the makeup game for the snowed out game earlier in the season.) The question has been who will be in net for that game. I’m still expecting Talbot but could be a big night for Mackenzie Skapski. We’ll find out tomorrow. Until then, I hope the boys let this one stew on the flight. This was a winnable game that they gave away. I think they realize that so maybe tomorrow will be a good night.

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Rangers Finally Solve Islanders In Instant Classic

I remember it clearly – two seasons ago, the Rangers and Islanders met at Nassau Coliseum in a mid-April game that had tons of meaning to both teams’ playoff chances. (It was the lockout year so they were still playing regular season games in mid-April.) The two teams played what some called the best game in recent history between the rivals, a 1-0 overtime victory for the visitors on a Dan Girardi goal. I remember it not because of who scored but because I missed the game for a friends’ wedding. There hasn’t been a game as good between the teams since that night. After last night, I don’t think we can say that anymore.

Yes, 6-5 is a far cry from 1-0 but that doesn’t mean the game wasn’t a classic. It was. From the opening seconds to the closing minute, fans of both fanbases went through highs and lows as they watched their team battle. The only thing both fanbases could agree on at all times? Neither could take their eyes away from the game for even a second. Doing so probably made them miss a pivotal moment in this ridiculous affair.

All day, all the Rangers kept saying was they needed a good start against the Islanders. Focus on the start and maybe there would be a different outcome. And they got a great start…the Islanders that is. Derick Brassard lost the opening faceoff, the puck went into the Rangers zone where Cam Talbot went behind the net to move it. He moved it alright, right onto the stick of John Tavares who was starring at a wide open net. Eleven seconds in and the home team had a 1-0 lead. I think saying that was not the start the Rangers wanted would be the understatement of the season.

It didn’t get better as the Islanders basically pounded the Rangers the entire first period allowing the Islanders to take 22 shots (actual shots, that doesn’t include missed or blocked shots) as well as score another goal to take a 2-0 lead less than 12 minutes into the game. Honestly the Rangers were lucky it wasn’t worse at that point.

Then with five and a half minutes remaining, a miracle happened – the Rangers beat Halak with an actual goal. I have no idea what Dan Girardi was doing behind the Islanders net but he was and he passed the puck to Ryan McDonagh who one-timed it into the net to cut the Islanders lead in half. And that’s how the two teams went to intermission. Neither team deserved it to be a 2-1 game.

But it was giving the Rangers the opportunity to take advantage of yet another slow start. They didn’t as just 1:20 into the period, the Islanders regained their two goal lead. I can come up with any excuses I want but simply put, it was a stinker by Talbot. There’s no reason a soft shot from the blue line should get past him. As with the first goal of the game, there was nothing his five teammates on the ice did to deserve the minus that went along with that goal against.

At that point, things really didn’t look good. Islanders fans were chanting “you can’t beat us!” and I’m sure some Rangers fans were starting to think it might be true. I know I was sitting there saying I will take any team in the playoffs except the Islanders. (By the way, I don’t care what anyone says, I still feel that way even after the game. I can’t take seven games of that.)

But the Rangers refused to give up. Maybe the chant woke them up. If it did, they’ll never admit it. Less than two minutes later, Derek Stepan got the puck to Chris Kreider on the wall who ripped one past Halak to get the Rangers back within one. Before Rangers fans could think if maybe the tide was turning, it officially did as just 23 seconds later, Ryan McDonagh had his second of the game on a blast Halak probably should have had. (Notice a pattern here?) The goal gave the captain his first multi-goal game of his career. No, I couldn’t believe that either but it’s true.

Unfortunately the Rangers never make it easy as two minutes later, Stepan would take his second stupid penalty of the game. (The alternate captain would have an interesting night – two penalties plus being at fault for a too many men on ice one added to a goal and two assists. Good thing he didn’t get benched for the first part which happened early in the game.) The Rangers would technically kill the penalty but the Islanders would score right as Stepan exited the box to regain the lead.

The good news was that would be the last goal the Islanders would get in the second period. The bad news was the Rangers wouldn’t get any either but that allowed the visitors to once again have a chance as they were only down one goal going into the final twenty minutes. You know that incredible stat about the Rangers leading after 40 minutes? The Islanders numbers aren’t as good.

Of course the home team would strike first, this time a little less than four minutes into the period. (Maybe by the time these teams get to game seven of a playoff series, the Rangers won’t allow the Islanders to score early in a period.) This one we can blame on Dan Boyle as he played with the puck at the Islanders blue line leading to a turnover and a 3-on-1 the other way. There was only so much Matt Hunwick and Cam Talbot could do. The bad part was the Rangers had actually carried play in the third until that point.

But the boys didn’t give up. Three minutes later it was Chris Kreider passing to Derek Stepan to make it 5-4. Yes I was as shocked as everyone else that Stepan shot the puck and didn’t look for another pass. I’m guessing that’s how he beat Halak as I’m sure he expected a pass just like the rest of us.

Less than two minutes later, a miracle happened. Marty St. Louis found the back of the net for his first goal in 16 games. You would think there would be relief on his face after scoring. Instead it was straight determination, not caring what that goal meant for him or the team. The look on his face said it could’ve been a meaningless goal in a blowout either way. But it wasn’t. It allowed the Rangers to once again overcome a two goal deficit while tying the game at five.

Of course it didn’t come without controversy as the Islanders felt Kreider tripped an Islander player allowing for the puck to go back the other way. They may have had an argument. Fortunately the referees disagreed and didn’t call anything. What amused me was Capuno said after the game that the non-call was the turning point. A non-call right before a goal that made it 5-5 causing your team to blow two two-goal leads was the turning point. Yes, the non-call didn’t help matters but that’s like the Rangers saying the goal 11 seconds in was the turning point for them. A lot of other things happened that had just as much if not more affect on the outcome of the game.

So with a little over ten minutes remaining, the score was tied at five. Oh and remember the 22 shots the Rangers allowed in the first period? Shot total was 40-40 at that point. This is why I couldn’t take a seven game series of this.

At that point I wasn’t thinking next goal wins but that maybe the game winner would be the Rangers taking their first lead. I was right as four and a half minutes later, it was Kevin Klein to the rescue as the defenseman blasted one off a pass from Derick Brassard to give the Rangers a 6-5 lead. Can we all agree it’s a good thing Klein’s contract isn’t up this year?

The remaining four minutes were not easy to watch as the Islanders desperately tried for the equalizer. The closest they came was hitting the post in the last minute and somehow, miraculously, the Rangers walked out of Nassau with their first win against the Islanders this season. Was it a masterpiece? Absolutely not. Goaltending and defense was horrible for both teams. But how nice is it to see the Rangers actually outscore a team in a run-and-gun game like that? And they did it without Rick Nash getting a single point.

It’s game like that which lead to tweets like this from rival beat writers:

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By the way, Josh Yohe covers the Penguins (for those who don’t know). Not sure I agree completely with that but you can’t deny this team is impressive. I still would like to have Lundqvist back soon. But until then, as I said when he went out, the playoffs aren’t a question only their position is. And right now they have a legit chance at first in the conference. (If they win every game in hand, they are ahead of everyone but the Canadiens.) Who would’ve thought that back on December 7th when the Rangers trailed both the Penguins and Islanders by 12 points?

 

(Photo: Melissa Andus)

Big Third Period Gives Rangers Another Two Points

All I could think after the last two games were the Rangers were headed in the wrong direction. Yes they were both victories, but they were barely victories against teams the Rangers should have killed. I expected that again tonight and got two periods of it. But something changed in the third which has me hopeful the boys realized they hadn’t been playing well and might finally be fixing it.

Yesterday, Vigneault told the media he wasn’t sure if either John Moore or Matt Hunwick would play. I didn’t think anything of it but I probably should have as he usually names his players the day before, especially if there is no game-day skate. Turns out they both got to play as Dan Boyle missed the game due to illness. The guy really can’t catch a break. Hopefully he’s better by Monday. (I’ll be honest, I question this illness. I’m wondering if he was slightly under the weather and this gave the Rangers an excuse to play both defensemen against a team the Rangers might be looking to trade with.)

We’ve all seen how the Rangers have played the last two games – come out flying and then allowing a bad team back in the game – so I honestly didn’t expect anything different tonight. But it was different. The Rangers came out well but so did the Coyotes, even though they played a tough game against San Jose last night.

Just 1:20 into the game, Carl Hagelin attempted to draw a hooking or tripping penalty on Connor Murphy. The referees didn’t buy it and sent him to the box for embellishment. I say all the time it’s either one or the other. The one time they actually call it that way, it hurts the Rangers. Honestly on replay it looked like Hagelin was holding Murphy’s stick and then fell so I guess that’s where they got the dive from. Hope the league doesn’t agree because I don’t want him on that list.

Fortunately the Rangers were able to kill that penalty. Seven minutes later, they decided since they hadn’t scored yet to try and put six or seven guys on the ice and see if that would work. It didn’t and back to the penalty box they went. It wasn’t a blatant too many guys on the ice, just a bad line change, but it was the right call. Fortunately, the Rangers killed that one too.

I really don’t have much else to say about the period. The MSG broadcast said it was an even period. I can agree with that even though the Coyotes looked slightly better to me (which is pathetic when you look at where the teams are in the standings). Both teams got chances, both goalies made saves. Oh and the line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis still couldn’t buy a goal. Granted they might have a better chance if they tried a few less passes but at least they had some zone time in the first. I really wish the first and third lines weren’t playing so well so they could change that line up. It just isn’t working right now.

Of course I wrote that during intermission and what happens just a minute into the second? Stepan sets up a streaking Kreider for the games’ first goal. That line continued to get chances the rest of the period as well. Of course St. Louis passed on an odd man rush when he should’ve shot but at least the other two looked like they may be finding their game so there is hope for that line yet.

Less than six minutes later, the Coyotes tied it as oft-rumored to Rangers center Antoine Vermette put one in on the doorstep. Of course Tanner Glass was standing right there so I’m sure everyone blamed him. It did look like his man who scored but I want to know where Dan Girardi was on the play as I’m guessing he should’ve been there instead of Glass. He seemed to be floating out of position to me. But we can blame Glass anyway.

Again both teams got chances for the remainder of the period and again it looked like the Coyotes had the better of the opportunities with Cam Talbot keeping his team in the game. Either every Coyotes player was trying to audition in hopes of being traded to the Rangers or the Rangers needed to be playing better. I haven’t watched the Coyotes play a lot this year but from what I’ve seen and heard, this game should not have been that close going into the third period.

Apparently the coaches agreed as Ulf Samuelsson told John Giannone that he was not happy with the way the boys played in the second period. And while I’m not sure how the message was sent, it was received by the players as the final twenty minutes might have been close to their best in the past few weeks.

It started right away as once again the Stepan line got a great chance but this time Smith came up with the stop. Then a little over a minute into the period, Rick Nash got his league leading 35th as he blasted one from the right faceoff circle that I believe hit the crossbar and then entered the net (you could hear it hit iron). It’s so good to see Nash having such a great season after there were fans who actually wanted to buy him out last summer. I just hope this streak lasts until July.

Five minutes later, Rieder came in basically on a breakaway with John Moore and Matt Hunwick trailing him. One of them took him down and the rookie was given a penalty shot. (Reports say Moore took him down. I actually think it was Hunwick who made the play that led to the call. Either way, there’s a reason neither of these guys have solidified the sixth defense position.) Fortunately Cam Talbot has been much better since that game in Toronto and bailed out his teammates by making the save. (Honestly, Talbot was phenomenal this game.) The look on his dads face afterwards…I just wanted to give the man a hug and tell him it was okay. After the game Talbot was asked what he was thinking as Rieder came down. His response? “Don’t let it in.” I love this team.

A couple minutes later, the Rangers further complicated things by taking another penalty. After the first two dumb ones, I asked on twitter if they would take a delay of game or faceoff violation next. Sure enough, penalty was to Derick Brassard for putting the puck over the glass. He didn’t argue this one.

Not only did the Rangers kill it, Kevin Hayes scored his first career shorthanded goal. I fully admit I was screaming at him to dump the puck as he went up the ice because it didn’t look like he had control. Guess I was wrong.

Two minutes later, it was my favorite line again as Derek Stepan and Marty St. Louis passed the puck about ten times (okay it was only five) from the time they entered the Coyotes zone to the time they got to the net. MSG broadcast called them unselfish players trying to set up a teammate. I called them stupid for not ever shooting the puck. Stepan finally did cause he had no choice and while Smith made the save, there was a scramble in front that eventually led to Stepan squirting the puck loose to the slot. The only person other than him who knew it was there was Marc Staal who jumped in and blasted it into the net to make it 4-1.

Three and a half minutes later, Lee Stempniak made it 5-1 when his shot somehow deflected into the net. (I think a Coyotes player hit it in but it was hard to tell.) At that point, with only a couple of minutes remaining, the two teams played out the remainder of the period and the Rangers took another two points to make it six out of six so far on this road trip. The win also gave Alain Vigneault his 500th career win as a coach, 21st coach of all time to hit that mark. Not bad at all.

The boys were also a perfect two for two with their dads in the building. Any chances the dads can go to the last stop on the trip? The boys venture to Long Island on Monday. The good news is the Islanders are on a four game win streak so I think their streak should come to an end before the Rangers three game one does. We just have to hope the Rangers feel the same way. Please show up to that game, boys. Pretend to actually care about that game. That’s all I ask.

 

(Photo: screenshot from tonight’s game)