Following a disappointing 3-0 shutout loss to the Senators, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t in the mood to discuss what went wrong with reporters. Borrowing a page from former bench boss John Tortorella, he was abrupt and left the postgame press conference.
After how they performed in wins over Vancouver and Carolina, Vigneault thought they were building momentum. Granted. Neither the Canucks nor Canes are good teams. But they had played better 5-on-5 and gotten some good things done. That included a strong shift from Kevin Hayes in a 4-1 win Friday night at Carolina. He stole the puck from rookie defenseman Noah Hanifin and held onto it before pushing it down to Oscar Lindberg, who then came out from behind the net and centered for a cutting Keith Yandle goal.
In the same game, Ryan McDonagh was pretty strong scoring a goal while controlling the play. J.T. Miller recorded two goals in a 2:10 span giving him a new career high of 11, surpassing last year’s total (10). It was a good performance from everyone. Kreider missed the game with neck spasms. He returned tonight. Rick Nash was out. But expected back for tomorrow’s home game against Buffalo. The final one before the All-Star break.
The issue with the Blueshirts remains the same. Consistency. Until they put together a good stretch, it’s hard to take them seriously. Even in a weak conference where anything’s possible, they must step up their game before next month’s trade deadline on Leap Year (Feb. 29). Finishing with a win over the Sabres would give them three of their last four and set them up for a pivotal showdown in Newark against the Devils on Feb. 2. They’ll play the Devils twice in six days with New Jersey visiting The Garden Feb. 8. In their only meeting, New Jersey took it in overtime on Lee Stempniak’s winner on 10/18. The Hudson rivals will also meet at The Rock on 2/23. That’s it for the season.
Similarly, the Rangers will face the Penguins four times after the break. One comes on 2/10 at Pittsburgh. The other three are all in March including 3/3 in the Steel City with 3/13 and 3/27 both at MSG. It’ll be odd to see Carl Hagelin in Pens colors. He’s already fitting in on his second team this season with three assists in four games while playing on a second line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Traded by the Rangers at last year’s NHL Draft due to the salary cap, he went to the Ducks along with a second round pick (Julius Nattinen) and sixth rounder (Garrett Metcalf) for Emerson Etem and a second round pick (Ryan Gropp).
It didn’t work out in Anaheim. Hagelin lasted 43 games tallying four goals and eight helpers despite signing a four-year contract worth $16 million. Sent to the Pens for David Perron and Adam Clendening on Jan. 15, it’s working out better for both teams. Perron has a goal and two helpers in three games for the Ducks. The only difference is Perron is unrestricted this summer making the deal a rental and cap cutting move for Anaheim. For Pittsburgh, they added quality depth gaining another speedster who can drive possession and kill penalties. With a 5-4 come from behind win over Vancouver Saturday, the Pens are fifth in the division with 53 points. Games against them, the Devils and Islanders could determine the Rangers’ fate.