Sometimes, hockey is as simple as the hot goalie. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they ran into one tonight in Jimmy Howard, whose 32 saves backstopped the Red Wings past the Rangers 2-1 at MSG on Rivalry Night. The 32-year old American goalie outperformed Henrik Lundqvist, whose big mistake behind the net cost his team at least a point.
Never good at playing pucks, Lundqvist made a terrible miscalculation in a tie hockey game which led directly to Drew Miller scoring into a vacated net for the game-winner at 59 seconds of the third period. That was enough to lose a game the Rangers controlled throughout out-shooting the Red Wings 33-18 and out-attempting them 74-44.
It didn’t matter because Howard was splendid throughout making several sparkling stops, stealing the Original 6 showdown on NBC Sports Network. As I alluded to in the game preview, he’s had success before against the Rangers. The win improved his record to 5-3-2 against our team. Howard entered with a 1.49 goals-against-average and .949 save percentage in nine career starts.
So, it didn’t surprise me that he stoned them. He once was an All-Star before Petr Mrazek replaced him as Detroit’s number one goalie. Lundqvist dropped to 5-4-2 against the Winged Wheel. He came in with three shutouts, a 2.17 GAA with a .932 save percentage. He only faced 18 shots. So 16 saves on 18 isn’t great. Especially when he was at fault on Miller’s winner from Luke Glendening.
I didn’t catch the first period. Too bad because Mika Zibanejad scored the Rangers’ lone goal 1:09 in from Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider. Coincidentally, those have been the three best players in the first four games (2-2-0) so far. With a helper, Kreider increased his point streak to four straight. He leads the team in scoring with seven points (3-4-7).
Zibanejad continues to play well. The ex-Sen is making fans quickly forget Derick Brassard. Brassard will get his points in Ottawa, which is where he’s from. But the younger and bigger Zibanejad clearly is a better overall player. He was the Rangers’ most dangerous forward creating numerous chances with his blinding speed and quick release. He scored his second and finished with five shots, 10 attempts and again was strong on face-offs going 13-and-10. He also drew a penalty.
Zibanejad was together with Kreider and Rick Nash, who played a second consecutive strong game on the top line finishing with a game high seven shots. If Pavel Buchnevich returns for Saturday at the Capitals, Alain Vigneault has an interesting decision. Does he keep Nash with Zibanejad and Kreider or move him down to Kevin Hayes’ third unit and put Buchnevich back on the top line?
The chemistry continues to be good between Derek Stepan and line mates Jimmy Vesey and Mats Zuccarello. The fourth line remains solid. Josh Jooris played a second straight game. He’ll probably come out if Buchnevich returns with Jesper Fast moving down to checking unit.
For the most part, the Rangers’ penalty killing has been much better. Nick Holden has added quality minutes as advertised. Marc Staal was a beast on a Detroit five-on-three. However, the Red Wings did cash in on a power play with Thomas Vanek connecting from Frans Nielsen and Mike Green to even the score in the second with Adam Clendening off for boarding.
Following Lundqvist’s gaffe which led to Miller’s goal, the Rangers had every chance to tie it but couldn’t. They didn’t get as many shots through in a tighter checking third with Detroit shutting it down. They held the Rangers to six shots. As a team, the Wings blocked 20 shots. The Rangers also missed the net 21 times. So, 41 of their 74 attempts never reached Howard.
It didn’t help that J.T. Miller took a needless hooking minor with Kreider already in the box halfway thru the third. The Rangers easily killed it off.
The problem was Howard. He made several spectacular saves point blank, doing his best Hasek. The Rangers really hurt themselves when they failed on a two-man advantage in the second. In fact, the Wings took three consecutive penalties. Special teams proved costly.
Along with Howard turning into a brick wall, it was enough to lose a very winnable game. The exact reverse of how they started last season. Even though they’re .500 over the first four, they’re getting plenty of scoring chances and quality shots. It’s more positive so far.
Battle of New York 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Mika Zibanejad, Rangers (goal-2nd, 10 shot attempts in 23 shifts-18:36)
2nd Star-Drew Miller, Red Wings, (game-winning goal at 59 seconds of 3rd)
1st Star-Jimmy Howard, Red Wings (32 saves incl. 13/13 in busy 2nd)
Notes: Kevin Klein made his debut pairing with Staal on the second unit. He took 24 shifts logging 19:19 with 16:34 at even strength with the other 2:45 shorthanded. … So far, no truth to a silly rumor that would send J.T. Miller to the Ducks for Cam Fowler. A move which would make no sense. … Rangers again won the face-off battle 33-24 led by Stepan (14-and-6). Glendening and Henrik Zetterberg were each 6-and-4 for the Red Wings. … Of their 20 blocked shots, Green rejected four while logging over 25 minutes and going plus-one with a helper. … There wasn’t much hitting with the teams combining for a paltry 34. Gordie Howe must’ve rolled his eyes from above. What a rivalry. Rangers and Red Wings meet two more times in Detroit Jan. 22 and Mar. 12. … Pavel Datsyuk was missed.