Young Blueshirts no match for Eric Staal and Wild

The losing streak is now up to six. That’s six consecutive games without a point. The younger Blueshirts are learning how hard it is to succeed at the highest level. Even though the effort was better than Thursday night, it wasn’t enough to win. They fell to the Wild 4-1 at MSG.

One-time Ranger Eric Staal and linemate Mikael Granlund did most of the damage combining for all four Minnesota goals and eight points. Each had two goals and two assists to keep the Wild in playoff position in a crowded West. They jumped over the idle Stars into third place in the ultra competitive Central Division. They’re up to 75 points. One ahead of Dallas and three up on St. Louis, who at last check we’re getting blown out by Winnipeg. The Western race makes the Eastern one look weak by comparison. It changes daily.

For the Rangers, Alexandar Georgiev got his second straight start with Henrik Lundqvist getting another night off. Lucky him. For his part, The Czar Gorgy was solid in his Garden debut finishing with 33 saves. A day removed from making 38 saves at Montreal to establish a new Rangers high for a NHL debut surpassing Dan Blackburn (37), he had to deal with more coverage breakdowns and odd-man rushes.

Minnesota moved Granlund up to the top line with Staal and Zach Parise. The line flat out dominated at five-on-five doing whatever it wanted. Parise added a primary helper to give the trio nine points. He also set a good screen in front of Georgiev on a nice Staal deflection for his 29th goal on a power play that made it 3-1 at the 52-second mark of the third period.

It wasn’t all bad for the Rangers. Skating a second game in a row without Rick Nash (healthy scratch due to trade speculation), they did get Chris Kreider back from a blood clot. He recovered nicely from a rib resection and was flying. A early shift in which he used his size and speed to go around a Wild defender in the neutral zone and make a nice rush got a good hand from appreciative fans. He played with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich on the first line. It was nice to see him back. He brought energy all night and was noticeable. So did Buchnevich.

For most of the first period, there was nothing separating the two teams. The Wild came out flat and looked beatable. They needed some good early saves from starter Devan Dubnyk before they got their legs in the second game of a back-to-back. The same situation for the Blueshirts.

It was the third line of J.T. Miller, David Desharnais and Jesper Fast who generated the best quality chances. They were good all night and eventually combined on the only Ranger goal. They could’ve had more if not for Dubnyk and a couple of near misses.

Unfortunately, the team broke down late in the first allowing the Wild to strike twice within a 2:37 span. The first mistake was made by Tony DeAngelo. Looking to make a play behind his own net, his pass got intercepted by a aggressive Staal who tipped the puck right to Granlund for a easy finish in front at 16:06. That part of the game continues to be a problem for DeAngelo, who rebounded to have a good game.

The second miscue was a simple three-on-three through the neutral zone. Granlund got the puck to Parise who cut into the left corner and slid a perfect backhand feed across to a open Granlund for what looked like his second. However, MSG replays eventually confirmed that it was Staal who got his stick on it to beat Georgiev at 18:43. It was his 28th goal matching last year’s total in Minnesota’s 61st game. That’s how well he’s playing. He just recorded his 900th career NHL point with a empty net goal in last night’s 4-2 win at the Devils.

Trailing by two entering the second, the Rangers responded. A good play started by Miller in the neutral zone resulted in Fast scoring his ninth off a give and go that cut it to 2-1 at 2:41. It was a very nice play by Miller. He passed for Fast, who got the puck back to him and then gained the Minnesota blueline onside. DeAngelo smartly drove the net to create a distraction which allowed Miller to make a great pass across for a Fast one-time blast past Dubnyk. It was his first point in 12 games. His last one came on 1/25 when he scored a goal in a win at San Jose.

One of three the Rangers have had in nearly  month. Since the All-Star break, they’re 2-10-0 in February. That explains why they’re sellers at the deadline which got much trickier with the Pens odd three team blockbuster with Vegas and Ottawa to acquire Derick Brassard and use the Golden Knights to offset enough salary to make it work. Ottawa would up with Swedish goalie prospect Filip Gustavsson, a first and third round pick along with ex-Pen Ian Cole. Vegas received a fourth round pick (Canucks) and Ryan Reaves. This is who the Pens got with Brassard in this complicated mess that the NHL allowed. 😕🙄

I am not gonna comment any further. I know what Hasan would say. Why not just hand the Pens the trophy while they’re at it? I must say the Sens did good long-term. But nobody outside Pittsburgh wants to see a three-peat. That’s the truth.

As far as the rest of the Rangers game, they couldn’t get it tied. They had a couple of chances mostly created by the Desharnais line. They only wound up with six shots in the second. Not enough pressure on Dubnyk, who was able to see most of the shots to finish with 22 saves. Credit Georgiev with giving his team a chance by making several big stops in a busy period that saw him have 14 saves.

The difference was Minnesota’s execution. On a iffy Rob O’Gara hooking minor he took with 39 seconds left in the second, the Wild took full advantage at the start of the third. Granlund worked the puck to Ryan Suter at the point. He let go of a wrist shot that Staal was able to redirect past Georgiev with Parise screening him for a 3-1 lead at 52 seconds for a power play goal. Gorgy had no chance.

The Rangers didn’t give up. They had their chances throughout. The best came when they still were down only one late in the second when John Gilmour used his speed for a great rush forcing Dubnyk into a tough save. His skating is a strength that’s worth watching. Maybe he will stick. The competition is going to be a lot tougher next training camp with all the new additions to the defense. That includes O’Gara who looked good paired with Marc Staal in his second game as a Ranger.

On their lone power play, DeAngelo got a hard low deflectable shot through which Miller got a piece of. But Dubnyk covered it. DeAngelo showed off his skating and offensive instincts in this game. So did Neal Pionk, who also had a tough go of it in his end.

It’s not all negative. Right now, it’s about finding out what some of the new faces can do. Kevin Hayes had a solid night. But Mats Zuccarello and Jimmy Vesey weren’t good enough. Vinni Lettieri played over 15 minutes on the fourth line with Paul Carey and Cody McLeod. Alain Vigneault rolled all four lines and three pairs.

Brady Skjei showed some of his ability making a couple of good defensive plays transitioning to offense. We need to see more of that.

The Wild finally put it out of reach on a odd-man rush. On a play started by Eric Staal in the neutral zone, Jason Zucker led Granlund on a two-on-one. Gilmour was the only player back and took the pass away. But Granlund was able to walk in and beat Georgiev low underneath the glove for a 4-1 lead halfway through the third.

That finished matters. The effort level was a improvement. But as Vigneault noted, it’s a results oriented business. With 20 games left including the very special and long overdue Jean Ratelle jersey retirement Sunday against Detroit, it’s going to be interesting between tomorrow and Monday.

Once the dust settles, it’ll probably be easier for the veterans who stay moving forward. The kids will eventually get it. When the season winds down, they’ll be able to recall first round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil for a brief look. Neither will surpass nine games. The organization is on record indicating they won’t burn a year off their ELC’s.

Here’s a interview GM Jeff Gorton was nice enough to do with MSG’s Amanda Borges. He’s very honest and open things including the first ever trade with the Devils. I like it.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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1 Response to Young Blueshirts no match for Eric Staal and Wild

  1. hasan4978 says:

    I don’t even get why Vegas would DO that. I can only imagine what the reaction would have been if A) we tried to pull what Vegas did, or B) we got the benefit of it the way the golden Penguins did.


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