It had to happen eventually. That it came against a struggling opponent who had all sorts of issues winning didn’t matter. All streaks come to an end. Tonight, two did. The Rangers’ run of scoring five or more during a five-game win streak was halted. The Canucks’ eight-game skid also ended with an emphatic 5-3 win over the Rangers at MSG.
Let’s be fair here. The Canucks earned it. They outworked and outhustled the Rangers. They also outdefended them and slowed down the pace to a crawl that made you want to take a nap. On Election Night no less, the Rangers got a lesson from a desperate team that needed a win in the worst way.
Having played the night before and losing to the Islanders, the Canucks wisely slowed down the pace to a crawl. They played a more conservative defensive style that took away most of the Rangers’ speed and transition. That resulted in a scoreless first period where the teams combined for 13 shots. There was no flow and little excitement. To be honest, I flipped to Sharks/Caps to catch some of Staten Island native Kevin Labanc’s NHL debut. I also caught a bit of Oilers/Pens in the first ever McDavid versus Crosby match-up.
Between the lack of excitement or sharpness in the Rangers’ game and the historic Presidential Election that got Donald Trump elected, I was all over the place.
It wasn’t all negative for the home team. Promising rookie Pavel Buchnevich continued to show improvement scoring for a third consecutive game. The 21-year old Russian is blossoming in front of our eyes. It doesn’t matter who Alain Vigneault puts him with. He plays balls out and shows off dynamic puck skills which make him impossible not to love. If only more of his teammates gave that kind of effort Tuesday.
One player who did was Rick Nash. The oft critiqued star forward had another good game. On a night where many teammates were passengers, Nash recorded his 400th career goal and played well throughout. The milestone came on a power play in the third period. With the team trailing Vancouver 2-1 on goals from Loui Eriksson, who got his first as a Canuck, and Henrik Sedin, who beat Antti Raanta on a breakaway out of the penalty box, Markus Granlund bumped into Raanta going off for goalie interference. Eventually, Raanta would leave the contest due to new NHL policy to examine him. He took head contact.
On their fifth and final man-advantage, the Rangers finally capitalized thanks to some textbook passing. Buchnevich, who already tallied his third in succession in the second on a nice redirect from Jesper Fast, passed across for Nash who buried his seventh at 5:27 of the third for number 400. He is now tied with Michael Grabner for the team lead in goals. Kevin Hayes started the play to pick up a helper, continuing his consistent offensive play.
But in a game where they didn’t play particularly well, they allowed nuisance Alex Burrows to score the go-ahead tally on reliever Henrik Lundqvist a few minutes later. Forced into action without any warm up due to Raanta’s injury, he was flat on his back as the Canucks outworked the Rangers to a loose puck. Rookie defenseman Brady Skjei was down on the ice and Kevin Klein was busy pushing out a Canuck behind the net. That allowed Burrows to retrieve a Bo Horvat pass and score into an open net for his first point of the season. It had to be him.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Sven Baertschi padded Vancouver’s lead to 4-2 when he finished a Jack Skille feed on a well executed rush with 6:52 remaining. You could’ve turned it off there. I knew they weren’t coming back. As optimistic as my Dad was, I felt it wasn’t their night. They weren’t themselves with some of the bad habits from a four-point imperfect weekend creeping in. When you still are winning despite not being at your best, eventually it comes back to bite you.
The Rangers went only 1-for-5 on the power play and didn’t take advantage of some undisciplined Vancouver play early.They also only had 13 total shots thru 40 minutes against Jacob Markstrom. Chris Kreider was a non-factor and saw his ice-time cut in the third. Jimmy Vesey only received one shift with it coming very late. A displeased Vigneault opted to shorten the bench and tweak his lines. He stuck Kreider with Nash and Derek Stepan, who had a dreadful showing going minus-two and losing 13-of-16 draws. His defensive game has been spotty so far.
For once, Mats Zuccarello was ineffective. He was held without a shot and was on for three goals against. Even normally reliable top defenseman Ryan McDonagh struggled getting caught out of position for a Canucks’ goal and finishing minus-three. Hayes went minus-two and had his four-game goal streak snapped. Even J.T. Miller didn’t have a strong game recording only one shot with a minus-one while being moved down to center the fourth line.
It happens. Vigneault decided to lift Lundqvist early. That didn’t work either. It backfired with the loathsome Burrows getting his second into a vacated net for a 5-2 Vancouver lead with 3:06 remaining.
Even though Mika Zibanejad got one back at 19:01 from Buchnevich, who recorded his first career three-point game, it was just window dressing. Zibanejad’s game has leveled off. Sure. He still has 10 points (3-7-10) but most of the production came early. He needs to be better. Ditto for Stepan, who has one goal in 14 games. Not enough from your number one center who’s gotten caught napping on a few goals against. Hayes has been the top performer at center with six goals while tied with Miller for the team lead in points (13). Brandon Pirri has been solid centering the fourth line going 4-5-9 and a plus-seven thus far.
What it comes down to is you’re never as good as you are when you’re winning and you’re never as bad as you are when you’re losing. The Rangers still have plenty to work on as they prepare for a four-game road trip that includes stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Columbus. They finally get some time off which can be beneficial. They don’t play again until Saturday night at Calgary. Then have a back-to-back at Edmonton for a busy weekend. They conclude the Western Canadian swing at Vancouver the following Tuesday for three games in four nights. Then get two days off before visiting the Blue Jackets next Friday.
We’ll see how they do away from MSG where the Canucks ended the Rangers’ six-game home winning streak. The schedule has been favorable so far with the Blueshirts playing 10 of their first 14 at home. They did a great job going 8-2-0. They’re 2-2-0 on the road. With the Pens coming back to beat the Oilers late in regulation, they’re tied for first in the Metro Division with a 10-4-0 record and 20 points. The Pens have played one less game. The Caps are three back having played two fewer after getting shutout by San Jose 3-0.
Also with a shootout win, the Devils are up to 6-3-3 with 15 points. So, the division is competitive. It should be all year.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Henrik Sedin, Canucks (goal-5th of season, assist, +2 in 23 shifts-17:41)
2nd Star-Pavel Buchnevich, NYR (goal-3rd of season, 2 assists, even in 18 shifts-16:03)
1st Star-Alex Burrows, Canucks (2 goals incl. GWG and ENG, 5 shots, +1 in 24 shifts-15:51)
Notes: The Canucks crushed the Rangers on face-offs dominating 39-21 highlighted by Brandon Sutter, who went 14-and-7 followed by Henrik Sedin (13-and-8). The Rangers’ most effective was Pirri, who was 3-for-5 with Miller going 3-and-4. … Key Stat: Giveaways Canucks 9 Rangers 23 (Buchnevich 4). … Rangers out-attempted Canucks 52-41. But that was it. As a team, they were minus-16 compared to the Canucks’ plus-15. … Baertschi had a goal and assist and Horvat tallied two assists. … Skjei did record an assist becoming the first Ranger rookie defenseman to have an assist streak of six since Brian Leetch. … Markstrom finished with 23 saves. … Raanta made 20 stops before Lundqvist came in and allowed two goals on six shots.