How many people have heard of E.F. Hutton? As a fellow Staten Island native and proud New Yorker whose Mom once worked for the big company, I certainly have. Chalk up the Rangers’ second game which ended in a tough 3-2 defeat at the Blues to the play of St. Louis back up Carter Hutton.
The former Predator netminder was nothing short of sensational turning aside 33 of 35 shots including a Ranger onslaught of 15 in a lopsided third period in which they out-shot the St. Louis hosts 15-0. So, they fall to 1-1-0. The Sharks visit Monday. That should also be a good test. I’d rather play good opponents early to see where our team is.
Sometimes, a game is as simple as a goalie stealing it. Henrik Lundqvist did it against the Blues last year. This time around, it was Hutton who gave a great performance to boost his team to a perfect 3-0-0 start. St. Louis is one of the West’s best teams. It was their third game in four nights. So, coach Ken Hitchcock had them sit back and protect the lead in the third. Hutton made it stand up with some remarkable stops while getting help from two goalposts.
It happens. Truth be told, the Rangers did nothing wrong. They played a very strong game. They got beat by a back up goalie, which for some of our fans is frustrating. They have a habit of making back ups look like Brodeur or Hasek. But there’s nothing to complain about. At least not yet.
There were a couple of breakdowns on two of the three Blues’ goals. The first coming over a minute in when J.T. Miller had his shot blocked- causing dangerous sniper Vladimir Tarasenko to coast in and beat Lundqvist stick side at 1:13. On the play, Miller having his shot rejected trapped Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Miller was unable to recover in time which made it easy pickings for one of the game’s best finishers. Colton Parayko got the only helper.
If there is a big positive, it’s been the play of Chris Kreider. In the first year of a new contract that pays him to be more than a 21-goal, 43-point player, he’s emerged as the Rangers’ most dangerous forward. Playing with more confidence, he’s skating with purpose and has great chemistry with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. An exciting line that’s been terrific since preseason.
It didn’t take long for the cohesive trio to respond. Over four minutes later, Kreider was quick to a Zibanejad rebound pouncing on it to put it home. Girardi created the play when his wrist shot was deflected right to Zibanejad, whose pass found Kreider in the right place for his second in two games. He later assisted on Zibanejad’s first as a Ranger. That gives him four points (2-2-4) so far.
The Rangers played a real strong first period. It wasn’t just the Zibanejad line either. The line of Derek Stepan, Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello was more in sync. Vesey was more dangerous coming close to scoring his first goal twice. Zuccarello was effective on the fore-check with Stepan, who was more noticeable despite not recording a point again. Zuccarello hit one of the two posts.
Unfortunately, the Blues didn’t need a lot of chances to score. Late in the first, a Marc Staal misplay allowed them to sustain a fore-check. With Staal’s partner Nick Holden going to the corner to help cover, it left the front of the net isolated. Paul Stastny was able to beat Holden and the closest forward Buchnevich for a rebound past Lundqvist from Robby Fabbri and Alex Steen at 17:32.
The Blues led in part due to holding the Rangers without a shot for nearly the final 14 minutes of the first. At one point, the Rangers had an 8-1 lead in shots. But were out-shot 11-8. It was a case of St. Louis using their speed to take advantage of our slow reacting defensemen. That could be a problem.
Girardi went down with an injury and didn’t return. Coach Alain Vigneault revealed afterwards that he would be out longer than “day-to-day” due to a hip flexor. So, he won’t be back soon. If they’re smart, they won’t rush him. So, who gets the call? Kevin Klein if his “back spasms” are no longer an issue, or the jailed Dylan McIlrath. Considering that Adam Clendening struggled, I would like to see McIlrath in regardless. But that’s not up to me.
The Blueshirts played a good second out-shooting the Blues 12-7. However, they still found themselves trailing by a goal. A undisciplined Miller high stick led directly to Alex Pietrangelo blasting one from the off wing from Stastny and Tarasenko for a 3-1 lead at 2:28. That it came off a face-off in which Jesper Fast left Pietrangelo open for that dangerous one-timer six seconds into the penalty wasn’t good enough. Girardi departed shortly after.
On the next shift, Holden made a good play in the neutral zone to Kreider, who found a streaking Zibanejad. The former Sen cruised into the St. Louis zone and tricked Hutton with a backhand from a bad angle catching him cheating to cut it to 3-2 only 30 seconds later. It was a smart play by a player I’ve been impressed with from the get go. He just seems to fit, also dominating on draws going 15-and-7.
If there is a drawback, that scoring line has been caught out for three goals against. Buchnevich has turned pucks over. It’s gonna happen. You live with the mistakes and hope the talented 21-year old Russian rookie learns. They’re clearly the best line. Hopefully, they’ll stay intact all season.
When they weren’t buzzing around Hutton’s net, the Blueshirts were busy killing penalties. Both of which weren’t good. One a Fast minor and the other a delay of game which went to Ryan McDonagh instead of Brady Skjei, who panicked with the puck throwing it out of play a second straight game. Skjei helped them kill it off along with strong work from Holden and Marc Staal. Miller created a great opportunity shorthanded but was stoned by Hutton. There wasn’t enough room to deke. He shot it into him.
Even Kevin Hayes was thrust into a penalty kill role logging 2:28 with the other 11:12 at even strength. His line has yet to get going. Hayes definitely is faster but must be more consistent for the third line to be successful. He’s playing with Miller and Rick Nash, who created a great chance for Miller, who again was turned away by Hutton. Nash saw a couple of shifts with Stepan and Zuccarello with under eight minutes left in regulation.
The problem for the Rangers was they weren’t able to bury their chances. They certainly had enough shots and territorial play. But the puck just didn’t go in. Kreider led in shots again with seven including one from the slot that a calm Hutton squeezed.
They did well despite Vigneault at times going mostly with McDonagh, Staal, Holden and Clendening. He mixed in Skjei but he didn’t play enough in crunch time. He’s a better skater than Staal and Holden. Clendening was okay in 24 shifts logging over 19 minutes. But didn’t make a difference. Holden got an assist but also was beaten on Stastny’s goal which was Staal’s fault for misplaying the puck. Foot speed is an issue.
Brandon Pirri blew a wide open chance when he fanned on a shot. He didn’t see much time getting 9:49 in 17 shifts. The fourth line of Pirri, Fast and Michael Grabner were fine. But they didn’t see the ice late which is how it should be if you’re trailing.
To their credit, the Blues protected the house. They were dead exhausted, losing a couple of players. So, it made sense that they didn’t fore-check. Hutton was the difference winning his St. Louis debut.
Battle of New York 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (goal-2nd, assist, 9 shot attempts, 4 hits, +1 in 23 shifts-16:58)
2nd Star-Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues, goal-3rd, assist, 4 shots in 32 shifts-+1 in 20:12)
1st Star-Carter Hutton, Blues (33 saves incl. 15/15 in 3rd)
Notes: Girardi logged 13 shifts for 7:56 before exiting. … McDonagh had a strong all around game with four shots, eight attempts with three hits and a blocked shot in 33 big shifts (30:08). … Rangers won the face-off battle for a second consecutive game going 33-and-24 led by Zibanejad (15-and-7). Steen was the Blues’ best finishing 5-and-4. … Rangers out-attempted Blues 62-30. … For a second game in a row, Lundqvist allowed three goals finishing with 15 saves.