Alain Vigneault wanted a better effort. The veteran coach made some line tweaks which worked out perfectly. The Rangers responded well by putting out the Flames 4-1 at Scotiabank Saddledome. All four new lines scored as they got exactly what they needed to start a four-game road trip the right way.
The goalscorers were Michael Grabner, Derek Stepan, Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey. Returning to the net, Henrik Lundqvist was stellar finishing with 35 saves. That included turning aside 15 of 16 in a busy third period when Calgary put together a good 20 minutes- earning their one goal on a power play tally from Michael Ferland. The team’s first power play goal on home ice.
Following a disappointing 5-3 home loss to the Canucks on Tuesday, the Rangers got a much needed break to prepare for the Western Canadian portion of a four-game trip that concludes at Columbus. The three days off definitely helped.
Much sharper from the outset, they jumped on the Flames with some good skating and forechecking to create scoring chances. It was a Calgary turnover forced by Jesper Fast in the neutral zone that sent Grabner flying down the right wing where his laser beat Brian Elliott short side for his team-leading eighth at 6:32.
The second goal came 5:27 later when a familiar tandem went to work down low. Stepan and reunited USA line mate Chris Kreider worked a give-and-go resulting in Kreider passing in front for an easy Stepan finish for his second to increase the lead to 2-0 at 11:59. Stepan used his speed to outhustle Calgary defenseman Deryk Engelland which resulted in him beating Engelland to the net for a nice return feed from Kreider.
Calgary came on late in the first period. They continued that momentum into the second. Using their speed and defensemen which include gun slinger Mark Giordano, they forced Lundqvist into some tough saves. The biggest came on former Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau, who got a breakaway with a minute left in the first. But his forehand shot was turned aside by Lundqvist, who got a leg on it.
Just when the Flames seemed on the verge of getting back into it, their D broke down leading to the Rangers’ third goal. J.T. Miller started it with a real good read. Skating towards the left point, he was able to make a nice pass across to a pinching Ryan McDonagh. The Ranger captain held the puck and centered for Vesey on the doorstep for a neat one-handed deflection for his seventh at 9:26. A well executed play by all three players.
The newly constructed top line of Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello got into the act a few minutes later. The play can really be credited to budding first-year defenseman Brady Skjei. On a sustained forecheck, he patiently held onto the puck and made a good pass across the ice that led to Zibanejad combining with Zuccarello to set up a one-time and a bang from Buchnevich for a commanding 4-0 lead with 5:38 remaining in the second. That gives Buchnevich a four-game goal scoring streak. The first Blueshirt to do it since Stepan in 2010-11.
Even though they led by four after two periods, shots were dead even 20-20. The difference being that the Rangers took advantage of every Calgary mistake while getting better netminding from Lundqvist. Though it was hard to fault Elliott for the last three goals against. His defense was lousy. That might explain why they entered play with a goal differential of minus-15. It was a rough night for Brett Kulak, who was on for all four goals against while partner Dougie Hamilton went minus-three.
Give the Flames credit for playing a good final period. They never gave up outshooting the Rangers 16-8. The league’s worst power play finally broke through on home ice for the first time on the Rangers’ second consecutive penalty. With Dan Girardi off for high-sticking, T.J. Brodie was able to find Michael Ferland in front for his third at 11:12. Dennis Wideman helped set it up to add another helper.
Calgary kept coming but Lundqvist refused to give up anything else. If not for the Flames’ well executed power play goal, he would’ve gotten the shutout. A nice effort from the prideful 34-year old veteran who entered with a .908 save percentage due to relieving Antti Raanta and allowing two goals on seven shots.
All in all, it was a much better performance from everyone. Offensively and defensively, they gave a stronger effort which resulted in a good win to start the road trip well. As a team, they had 24 blocked shots. Thirteen different Blueshirts got in on it. Girardi, Miller and Kevin Klein each had three.
Now, they’ll visit the other Alberta team tomorrow in a back-to-back. Edmonton remains a first place hockey club in the Pacific. They’re 9-5-1 with 19 points leading San Jose by a point and Anaheim by two. The Oilers had Saturday off after losing to the Stars 3-2 at home. Connor McDavid wasn’t pleased. It should be interesting to see what happens in the rematch from Nov. 3. A game the Rangers won on a late Nash goal at MSG with Miller adding an empty netter for a 5-3 win.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Michael Grabner, NYRangers (tone setting goal for team best 8th with 6 shot attempts, 2 blocks in 21 shifts-12:47 including 10:58 EV, 1:49 SH)
2nd Star-Dan Girardi, NYRangers (really solid effort defensively saving a goal and going plus-two in 26 shifts-17:54 including 15:59 EV, 1:55 SH)
1st Star-Brady Skjei, NYRangers (played very well while partnered with Marc Staal on right side going plus-two with two shots in 23 shifts-18:40 including 17:14 EV, 1:26 PP)
Notes: With an assist, McDonagh leads the team with 10 helpers. Miller and Stepan each have nine along with Skjei. … McDonagh led NYR in ice-time with just 21:01. Credit Vigneault for managing each shift knowing they play again Sunday. … Faceoffs went in favor of the Rangers 27-23 with Zibanejad 9-and-7 and Brandon Pirri 5-of-6. … Klein put in one of his better games logging 20:38 in 25 shifts. … Shots were 36-28 Calgary. The Flames out-attempted the Rangers 70-49. … Gaudreau was held off the score sheet with three shots in five attempts. Sean Monahan also was kept in check despite four shots in seven attempts with Lundqvist making a strong denial on a tough chance. … Rangers (11-4-0) remain in first with 22 points over Penguins by virtue of one more ROW (11-10). Game time against the Oilers is 9:30 PM.