Sometimes, you can find a spark when its least expected. Alain Vigneault has been looking for one during his team’s toughest stretch since he took over. Maybe he found it in Jayson Megna. The 25-year old was summoned from Hartford yesterday when it was learned Chris Kreider wouldn’t be available. In his season debut, Megna helped the Rangers hit the jackpot with a goal and assist highlighting a very satisfying 6-2 win over the league-leading Stars at MSG.
Vigneault opted to play Megna over healthy scratch Emerson Etem, who earned a seat in the press box following a awful game at Florida. It’s easy to forget that Megna was one of the final cuts during training camp. It was a numbers game for him and Brian Gibbons, who both went down to the Wolf Pack. With things not going well, Megna got his big chance on Broadway. Playing on a line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, he didn’t disappoint.
Wearing the old number 23 of former captain Chris Drury, Megna used his speed and skill to mesh with Stepan and Nash who coincidentally had their best games in a while. The cohesive trio was around the puck for most of their shifts. Their hard work paid off early. On a forecheck from Megna, Nash freed a puck loose to Stepan who beat Stars goalie Antti Niemi at 1:56 of the first period for a quick 1-0 lead. They were just getting warmed up.
The new line was a huge success. Stepan scored twice including recording the team’s first shorthanded goal. It only took 40 games into the season. Playing his 900th career game, Nash tallied three assists. That included a sweet dish across to an open Megna for a tap in that concluded the scoring.
It also prevented any comeback hopes for the league’s highest scoring team. The Stars had a goal from Valeri Nichushkin reversed which would have cut it to 5-3. Credit Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson for noticing that Jason Spezza was offside. It wasn’t even close. How the refs missed it I don’t know. Thank god for the challenge. It benefited our side and killed any momentum the Stars got from a Antoine Roussel tally which made it 5-2 with still 11:20 left. Anyone who’s seen them knows a three-goal deficit with that much time left is nothing.
Who knows what might’ve happened had Spezza not been offside. Suddenly, it would’ve been a two-goal game. The way the Rangers have been over the past month, it could’ve gotten dicey. Instead, they recovered nicely. A good defensive play from old reliable Kevin Klein allowed Nash to come out two-on-one with Megna. He had come close earlier in the first with a more aggressive approach that included a shoot first mentality. A rarity on a team that is pass happy. The passes they made on a give-and-go weren’t great but it was all about the execution with Megna able to retrieve Nash’s return pass for his first goal in the NHL since Mar. 14, 2014 with the Pens against the Flyers. He deserved it.
Overall, this was the best game the Blueshirts have played in quite some time. It was more complete with actual attention to detail. Facing two of the league’s very best scorers, they clamped down on Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin by holding them to two shots and a combined minus-six rating. Each were on for three goals against. Astonishingly, Benn has still not recorded a point in eight games against the Rangers.
Ryan McDonagh had a strong game defensively. He was more involved physically blocking four shots. As a team, the Rangers blocked 21. Unlike recent games, there were no passengers. That’s how it has to be. The quality of opponents don’t stop with the Caps visiting MSG Saturday and the Bruins next Monday. Then they visit the Islanders in Brooklyn next Thursday.
Despite a good start in which they also earned two power plays, they were unable to cash in. On one, Vigneault had Megna on the second unit. Why not? He can’t be any worse at this point. Most of the success has come from the top unit featuring red hot trigger man Dan Boyle.
After misfiring on the first two, one mistake and it was in the back of their net. John Klingberg sniped from Spezza and Alex Goligoski to even the score at 13:50. Spezza found the trailer Klingberg, who let go of a low wrist shot that eluded Henrik Lundqvist. He should’ve had it. He later atoned for it by stoning Patrick Sharp on a two-on-one with a hustling McDonagh opting to take Seguin and give the pass option for Lundqvist to take care of. He got across in time and made a glove save.
The key for the Blueshirts was bounce back ability. They haven’t had much of it lately. But following Klingberg’s goal, they came right back scoring 38 seconds later on a seeing eye point shot from Keith Yandle. On a nice shift from Kevin Hayes, who returned to the lineup and didn’t make any glaring mistakes, Yandle was able to get to a loose puck and fire one through traffic that Niemi didn’t pick up for an unassisted tally at 14:08. It was just Yandle’s second goal and first since Oct. 22 against Arizona.
Part of being successful is getting the bounces. In another role reversal, they made their breaks when a Derick Brassard pass for Mats Zuccarello went off Jason Demers’ skate and in making it 3-1 at 17:23 of the second. J.T. Miller drew the only assist. The second stanza was more tight in terms of getting shots through. At one point, the Rangers only had three. But a flurry late that included the fortunate bounce on Brassard’s 14th allowed them to take a two-goal lead to the locker room.
The Stars have been a third period team. They’ve had several comebacks. During what’s been their worst stretch so far, they were able to force overtime in a loss at New Jersey and nearly rallied from a three-goal deficit before falling to the Islanders 6-5. You knew they wouldn’t give up.
That’s why it was important for the Rangers to get the jump. They did just that thanks to splendid penalty kill work from Nash and Stepan. The dynamic duo from last year had almost struck earlier. But Stepan was foiled by Niemi. This time, Nash one handed a pass to Stepan at the end of his shift. Stepan did the rest putting in his own rebound to make it a three-goal lead at 4:55. It’s also worth noting Dan Girardi started it with a good defensive play. He’s still allowed to get credit. Right?
Viktor Stalberg was the beneficiary of a huge goal that increased the Ranger lead to four at 7:50 of period three. On a smart Hayes forecheck, he passed for an open Klein who fired a tough shot in traffic that Oscar Lindberg got a piece of. Stalberg was able to bury the loose change for his fifth. A nice hard working goal for the third line.
It didn’t take long for Dallas to get it back. Less than a minute later, Spezza started a beautiful passing play with Sharp who fed Roussel for his seventh in front cutting the deficit to three at 8:40. Then came the defining moment. No one noticed that Spezza was just ahead of the play before he set up Nichushkin for a potential goal. Good thing Samuelsson protested. Video review confirmed the obvious reversing the goal call. There wasn’t much protest from the Dallas bench which includes fiery coach Lindy Ruff.
Finally, Klein made a nice play in his end with a outlet for Megna at center ice. He then came in with Nash with the two playing catch before a grinning Megna came back to the bench celebrating his goal that made it 6-2 with 6:22 remaining.
This was a happy night. One the Rangers badly needed. It moves them up to 22-14-4 with 48 points. One behind the Islanders for second in the Metro. Three in front of the idle Devils. They’re also five up on the Pens who are finally playing better. They lost to the Blackhawks in a breathtaking 3-on-3 that I’ll have a video post on. It was that good.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Rick Nash, NYR (3 assists, 4 shot attempts, +2 in 23 shifts-16:18)
2nd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (2 goals including team’s 1st SHG, 7 shot attempts, 10-for-15 on draws, +2 in 24 shifts-16:31)
1st Star-Jayson Megna, NYR (1st game for NYR-1st goal, 1st assist-7 shot attempts, +1 in 18 shifts-11:51)