The more things change… the more they stay the same. That is the story for the ’15-16 Rangers who can’t seem to find any consistency 38 games into what’s turning into a worrisome season. Especially with the Pens heating up and the Devils continuing to win.
Facing the Panthers to start the new calendar year, they couldn’t build on their last effort in Tampa. Instead, it was another frustrating night. Make no mistake. The better team won. The hungrier one too. The Panthers cashed in on Ranger mistakes for a 3-0 shutout win moving back into first in the Atlantic Division. It was their franchise record eighth consecutive win.
It didn’t start out that way. For most of the first period, they were fine. Limiting the faster Panthers offensively, the Rangers looked to be in good shape until the final shift. An unforced turnover from Emerson Etem led directly to Logan Shaw finishing off his fourth from Corban Knight with 24.6 seconds left. It was part of a horrible night for Etem, who also was responsible for the second goal.
Despite firing 15 shots on Roberto Luongo in the second, they couldn’t get one past the future Hall of Famer. Unlike the first meeting at BB&T Center when he was culpable on a few in a 5-4 overtime loss back on 11/21, Luongo was sharp throughout. He made some key stops when the Rangers had pressure. In particular, his cat-like glove did some nice work to deny Derek Stepan, Keith Yandle and Rick Nash.
The end result was Luongo’s 71st career shutout. The most among active goalies. Henrik Lundqvist is second with 57. He stopped all 40 Ranger shots for his 418th career victory.
Jaromir Jagr gave his former team a couple of power play chances with undisciplined penalties. But they weren’t willing to oblige. Luongo made some timely saves the Blueshirts weren’t willing to pay the price in front. Notably Chris Kreider, who has stopped screening goalies. On one such sequence, he watched Yandle wind up and gave Luongo a clear path for a routine glove save. That wasn’t his only hiccup.
Despite only getting six shots in the second, the Cats increased their lead to two. Vincent Trocheck deflected home a Alex Petrovic shot from the right point past a frustrated Lundqvist at 4:41. On the play, a scrambling Etem was lost in coverage and didn’t get back to take Brian Campbell, who dished across for an open Petrovic shot that took a favorable bounce for the home team.
It was Etem again who took a mindless hooking minor with 16 seconds left. Given another look on the third line, he was brutal. A turnover that led to the game-winner. A blown assignment on the second. Then a foolish penalty after a strong shift where he was noticeable on the forecheck. So here we are folks. In his 19th game as a Blueshirt, Etem took 10 shifts and was minus-two in 6:38. Kevin Hayes will be back no doubt for the first overall Stars on Tuesday.
The end came when Brandon Pirri was left all alone by Ryan McDonagh to beat Lundqvist on the power play with Etem in the box. His power play goal made it 3-0 a little past the halfway point.
It didn’t matter that there was still a period and a half left. The game was over. The Rangers predictably didn’t score. Once again, if you can shutdown Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Nash, who was with Stepan and Jesper Fast a second straight game, you basically neutralize the offense.
As if it wasn’t already ugly enough, Kreider pulled one of his foolish cheap shots shoving Florida defenseman Willie Mitchell from behind into the boards which earned him two for cross-checking and two for roughing with Pirri coming to Mitchell’s aid. It wasn’t as bad as it looked. However, it’s the kind of dirty play the NHL is trying to eliminate. Maybe this is the one that earns Kreider some discipline.
What’s so puzzling about him is he won’t use his physical tools to screen goalies or score garbage goals. But he’ll show frustration and deliver a cheap hit that could’ve injured a respected veteran. It was just a dumb play by a confused player.
To their credit, the Rangers didn’t give up. They kept trying to score on Luongo. But came away empty handed.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Tanner Glass, NYR (one of few players to battle, fought Thornton to lengthy draw after clean check on Kulikov)
2nd Star-Brandon Pirri, FLA (power play goal-8th, stood up for Mitchell)
1st Star-Roberto Luongo, FLA (39 saves for 71st career shutout)