I honestly didn’t expect much. Maybe that’s because I knew better. The Rangers don’t do well against solid fundamental teams. So, the end result was an all too predictable 5-2 loss to the Wild. They have now lost nine of their last 12 and continue to struggle without Derek Stepan. The second line center took the morning skate and hinted if there were no setbacks he could be back for tomorrow night at Winnipeg.
Stepan missed his 10th consecutive game due to broken ribs. That he actually might be ready is surprising. That’s is a testament to his toughness and willingness to get back. Hopefully he’s not rushing. They definitely need him. Not coincidentally, they’re 3-5-2. In five of those defeats, they’ve scored two-or-less goals. The only two they completely stunk in were the awful display at Edmonton and Calgary when they allowed a combined 12 goals.
Without Stepan, coach Alain Vigneault has yet to find the right combination for Kevin Hayes or Chris Kreider. Each continue to struggle with consistency. Though he showed some life with a highlight reel goal and two assists over last weekend, Kreider still hasn’t gotten hot. He was fairly quiet in the home win over Edmonton and wasn’t noticeable against an air tight Wild defense that shutdown the top line. Hayes has been worse. Despite creating chances, he is without a goal in 12 straight with only two helpers. The growing pains of the Boston College duo is plaguing the team.
It’s up to the coach to find a solution. He must push the right buttons. Of course, the players must perform better. Maybe it clicks when Stepan returns. Part of it is Vigneault figuring it out. If that means making Hayes accountable, so be it. Something he’s been reluctant to do with both Hayes and Kreider while mixing and matching with J.T. Miller and Emerson Etem. Interestingly, Miller was in between Kreider and Jesper Fast tonight. He and Fast set up Ryan McDonagh for a goal that cut the deficit to 4-2. It was too late with the game’s number one star Mikko Koivu cashing in on a McDonagh turnover for his second goal and third point of the contest 80 seconds later.
Henrik Lundqvist didn’t play well either. That he played was a story in itself. He relieved backup Antti Raanta who left the game in the first period woozy after taking a hard Marco Scandella slap shot to the mask. It didn’t look good with Raanta clearly struggling with help from Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay as he went back to the locker room. He probably went to the dark room for concussion tests. If he’s out for tomorrow, the club will have to summon either Magnus Hellberg or Mackenzie Skapski from Hartford. With Raanta going down during the game, Minnesota resident Santino Vasquez was the Rangers’ emergency reserve goalie.
Of most concern was their overall game which wasn’t good against a quality opponent who takes advantage of mistakes. Keith Yandle had a penalty shot in the first minute. But he was unable to beat Wild starter Devan Dubnyk, who made a nice glove save on Yandle’s attempt. Only Dan Boyle has converted on penalty shots this season doing so at Vancouver in a 2-1 loss on Dec. 9.
When Lundqvist relieved the injured Raanta, they were already down 1-0 with Koivu getting his first from Thomas Vanek and Zach Parise at 8:27 of the first. A Viktor Stalberg giveaway in the neutral zone allowed the Wild to take the lead with Koivu able to beat Raanta in front.
A Dan Boyle hooking minor allowed the Wild to go up by two late in the second. Matt Dumba was able to legally bat a Nino Niederreiter rebound out of mid-air past Lundqvist for at 17:30. Mikael Granlund drew the other assist.
Some hustle from Tanner Glass allowed Etem to find Dominic Moore in the slot for a big goal with under nine seconds left that cut the deficit to 2-1. The fourth line was one of the few bright spots. Glass outworked a Wild player to a loose puck freeing it up for Etem who dished for Moore. Moore made a great shot to beat Dubnyk scoring against one of his former teams. He played for them in part of ’06-07 and ’07-08.
If only the more talented Blueshirts had shown up. It was a nondescript game for the trio of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. None were involved offensively combining for an ungodly two shots while going a combined minus-four. Zuccarello was caught out for Kevin Porter’s back breaker 40 seconds following a Jason Pominville power play goal that made it 4-1. That one was on Lundqvist who allowed one of his worst goals. Fooled by Porter who threw a no angle backhand, he didn’t guard the post and had it bank off him.
Previously, Pominville’s goal came with Minnesota native Brady Skjei off for holding. His first penalty resulted in Pominville taking a Koivu feed and beating Lundqvist. The other rookie Dylan McIlrath wasn’t sharp either getting beat along with McDonagh, who had a rough night. With the rookies, at least it’s expected. They’re still learning. I can’t explain why McDonagh’s been so inconsistent. Are the injuries still nagging him?
The Ranger captain did get his fifth off a nice cross ice feed from Miller making it 4-2 with 3:37 left in regulation. But just as quickly as he did something positive, his turnover resulted in Koivu’s second of the game from Ryan Carter and Charlie Coyle.
For the Blueshirts, there’s no time off. They will face a rested Jets team Friday. One that loves to take the body and plays well in front of the loudest crowd in the league.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Emerson Etem, Rangers (assist, 4 SOG in 5 attempts earning 20 shifts, +1 in 11:50)
2nd Star-Jason Pominville, Wild (power play goal-4th of season, 4 SOG including 1 goal post, even in 22 shifts-16:08)
1st Star-Mikko Koivu, Wild (2 goals and an assist, +1 in 26 shifts-19:03-dominated)