For almost two periods, the Rangers were putrid in every aspect. Unable to deal with their opponent’s speed and sustained forecheck, they should’ve been blown out of the building. In a game they once trailed in shots 23-4, they found their way back with a big third period to pull out a 4-2 win over the Hurricanes at MSG on Kids Day.
Let’s be honest. When your team gets so few shots or chances and can’t get out of its own zone, you have to wonder what the heck is going on. These strange occurrences are becoming more and more common. Similar to last year, the defense is struggling to get pucks out. At times, it’s scary.
Somehow, they summoned up the energy to find a way to win again following a loss. I think they’re now 7-0-1 after a defeat. After getting outshot 25-11 thru two periods yet remained tied thanks to some superb goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves), they remembered to play the third. The Rangers outplayed the Canes for a change by outscoring them 3-1 and outshooting them 12-3.to hike their league-leading point total to 35. That’s tied with the Blackhawks for the most.
In improving to 17-8-1 in their first 26 games, they did it with smoke and mirrors. I didn’t see much of the first. I missed Derek Stepan’s goal. He had his best game of the season finishing with a goal and two assists. That included an un-Stepan like eight shot attempts. He easily could’ve had more goals missing a wide open chance with a gaping net from an angle. He’s been heating up at the right time. Especially with Mika Zibanejad out.
Stepan got the only goal of the first period despite Carolina holding a significant edge in shots, 15-3. Kevin Klein got the primary assist. In his return to the lineup after sitting out at Buffalo with Adam Clendening subbing for him, he had a better game. More involved in all aspects, Klein finished plus-two with four hits and five blocked shots in 21 shifts logging 16:47 of ice-time. He was better along with rookie Brady Skjei, who used his superb skating to set up a big Michael Grabner goal in the third.
Even though the shots were closer during the second with the Canes holding a 10-8 edge, the Rangers still didn’t play well. They turned pucks over and took penalties to make life difficult on Lundqvist. Carolina was better territorially attacking with vigor and firing shots from everywhere. Despite that, they could only muster one goal on their first 25 shots by Lundqvist.
It was again former Ranger Viktor Stalberg who tallied. Having scored both Carolina goals earlier in the week in a 3-2 loss, this time the hard working Swede was rewarded for his hustle. Hounding Ryan McDonagh, a strong backcheck forced him into a neutral zone turnover. The Canes came the other way with Derek Ryan and Brock McGinn working the puck to an open Stalberg, whose wrist shot from the right circle beat Lundqvist top shelf to even the score at 8:34. Dan Girardi went down which might’ve hurt Lundqvist’s sight.
McDonagh also took a lazy tripping minor penalty later in the period. But his teammates bailed him out with a big penalty kill to keep the game even. Kevin Hayes went off for a slashing minor. Twenty seconds later, ex-teammate Lee Stempniak also was nabbed for a slash. During a shift, Stempniak speared Girardi. How it wasn’t a spear was mystifying. Spearing also should be more than a minor penalty. It’s a deliberate attempt to injure.
The third was much better for the guys in blue. They took the play to Carolina by getting the first eight shots on Carolina starter Michael Leighton. Yes. You read that correctly. The same Leighton who once backstopped the Flyers to within an overtime of Game 7 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. He’s best remembered for giving up Patrick Kane’s odd OT winner from a bad angle that no one realized was in except for Kane.
It had been a while since Leighton started an NHL game. He got into his last one with the Flyers in ’12-13. Leighton made a relief appearance for the Blackhawks last year allowing one goal on 18 shots. In Saturday’s matinee, he hardly had to do much until the final stanza. In it, he gave up three goals on 12 shots. None are what I’d consider bad. The Rangers finally attacked by using their quick transition to get to Leighton.
The first such play saw Skjei take the puck from Jesper Fast and fly down the left wing to create a two-on-one where he passed for Grabner, who converted a breakaway for his team-leading 13th at 5:54. But the Rangers’ second lead lasted just 32 seconds. Victor Rask was able to sneak one past Lundqvist low and short side from Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin for his ninth. Considering it was from distance, it’s definitely one Lundqvist should’ve had.
With the game hanging in the balance, a great shift from Stepan resulted in Chris Kreider burying home a rebound for his fifth to put the Rangers ahead 3-2 with 7:35 remaining. He and Stepan had it going on most of the contest. They had a dominant shift during the second where they pinned the Canes in for a long stretch. But only were able to get one shot on Leighton. That was the sequence where Stepan was set up but missed. Carolina iced the puck but was able to escape trouble.
Stepan and Kreider have always had good chemistry since teaming up to capture gold at the 2010 Under 20 World Junior Championship. Alain Vigneault stuck Mats Zuccarello with them. He was more effective in this one assisting on two goals. Why Vigneault decided to try Fast with Stepan and Kreider remains a mystery. Zuccarello needs to play with a big power forward like Kreider, who can free up space with his physicality. They were on for three goals for at even strength.
With the Rangers nursing a one-goal lead, Kreider put it out of reach by converting a breakaway with a lightning like wrist shot that went off the post and then banked off Leighton and in for a 4-2 lead with 2:49 to go. Stepan started the play and then Zuccarello head manned Kreider who broke in on Leighton and ripped one by him for his second of the game and sixth overall. When he shoots the puck like that, he is scary. Maybe this is the game that gets him going.
Even though it was far from a complete performance, the Blueshirts played one good period to come out on top. That was enough to rebound from a disappointing one-goal loss at Buffalo. They’re two up and two down over the last four and have been win one, lose one recently. It would be nice to see them put together another good stretch.
They finally see the Islanders on Tuesday at Barclays Center. The Isles have won three in a row including consecutive wins over the Pens and Caps. Whenever the Rangers and Islanders get together, throw the records out the window. Following the Isles, the Rangers visit Winnipeg to see Patrik Laine, who is now tied with Sidney Crosby for the league lead with 16 goals. That’s on my birthday too. I might catch some of it out with my family at a nice restaurant in Brooklyn.
I also want to single out Marc Staal. His defensive play has been much better this season. He was really good on Saturday. He’s really bounced back in a big way following a tough ’15-16. He and Nick Holden have formed a solid second pair that can be counted on to move the puck effectively and get out of their zone. Both have contributed offensively with Staal scoring number two the other night. Holden has three goals and has gotten better. Staal was plus-one with two shots in 27 shifts (22:04).
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (no points but 4 blocks including 2 without a stick and a clear that left him hobbled on a change, Even in 17 shifts-11:43 including 9:49 EV, 1:13 SH, 41 seconds PP)
2nd Star-Chris Kreider, NYR (2 goals-5th, 6th, 5 shot attempts, 4 hits, +2 in 22 shifts-18:32)
1st Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (goal-5th, 2 assists, 9 shot attempts, 2 takeaways, +2 in 24 shifts-20:45)
Notes: Oscar Lindberg was a healthy scratch. Josh Jooris returned and centered the fourth line going minus-one with two hits and winning three of four draws. … Matt Puempel received 12 shifts (9:33) all at five-on-five. … Key Stat: Giveaways Canes 17 Rangers 15 … Rangers blocked 21 shots led by Klein’s five with Girardi and Miller each having four. The Canes blocked 15 paced by Pesce’s four. … Carolina controlled faceoffs 26-22 led by Jay McClement (7-and-3) with Rask also 9-and-6. Stepan was 8-and-9 for the Blueshirts. Eight different Rangers took draws. … Power Plays Canes 0-3 Rangers 0-2.