Game #73: Rangers lose again to Howard and Athanasiou led Red Wings

Once again, it was Groundhog Day for the Rangers. They saw their collective shadow against Jimmy Howard, Andreas Athanasiou and the Red Wings to lose 3-2 in the final meeting of the season. In fact, all three losses to Detroit came by identical 3-2 scores.

When it comes to our team facing Howard, they cannot beat him. Simply put, the long time Red Wings netminder who idolized Mike Richter, always saves his best for the team he grew up rooting for. So, it’s never surprising when he routinely makes 40 or more saves against them. In fact, I predicted 43 early on and the usual one goal win over unlucky counterpart Henrik Lundqvist. I was close. He finished with 41 to improve to 10-3-3 in 16 career appearances versus the Rangers. See’s Dan Rosen’s tweet below.

Howard is a goalie I’ve always had a soft spot for. He came after all the Red Wings’ success. It looks like the affable veteran will stay put for another year with the only franchise he’s known. Good.

He isn’t a Hall of Fame netminder. However, the former University of Maine star has carved out a solid career in Hockey Town. He’s up to 241 career victories with 24 shutouts and respectable numbers across the board. The soon to be 35-year old on March 26 should be a lock for the US Hockey Hall of Fame. No small accomplishment.

I can’t count how many times the Rangers and Red Wings wound up in a one goal game with Howard and Lundqvist in net. But I’d imagine it’s been almost for the duration of their match-ups. That’s just the way it is. Some things will never change. If you’re an old school 80’s music fan, you know where I borrowed that from. ;).

Facing a team with fewer points than them, the Rangers came out fast and dominated the Red Wings with a 17 shot first period. That included the game’s first seven. They controlled much of the action except for the scoreboard. Howard wouldn’t cooperate turning aside all 17 Ranger shots with maybe his best stop coming on Chris Kreider, who acknowledged to playing through a hamstring injury since the Tampa game last month.

With a young lineup that included Hartford call ups John Gilmour and Vinni Lettieri, the Rangers made their share of mistakes. However, I liked the effort they gave. With coach David Quinn finally moving Filip Chytil to his natural position of center, and having Lias Andersson center the fourth line, it was a different look. Brett Howden also centered a line. Only leading scorer Mika Zibanejad had experience down the middle. That’s how it should be for the remainder of the season.

Former Islander center Frans Nielsen took advantage of a mistake to score his 10th from Detroit call up Taro Hirose in his NHL debut. Gilmour got turned outside in by Nielsen who broke in and went upstairs on Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead.

In between stoppages, I was also flipping to the big play in game for pseudo Alma mater Fairleigh Dickinson. Like Devils blogger Hasan, I too attended the FDU Madison campus. It was only for three semesters before I finished up at St. John’s. My school has a pretty big game tomorrow night against Arizona State. It’s a second chance.

I too was thrilled to see the kids from FDU Teaneck get the school’s first win in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. They’ll now meet West No. 1 seed Gonzaga. They earned it by coming from behind to beat Prairie View. It was exciting.

I know I’ve been neglecting our team lately. But I made sure to lock in and catch as much of tonight’s game as possible. I watched more than I have the past two weeks. It’s been a rough time for the team. They remain at only one win since the trade deadline that saw Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid follow Mats Zuccarello on the way out to playoff contenders. It still is like an out of body experience seeing Hayes in that weird No. 12 Winnipeg Jets jersey. He scored a goal in a win the other night. Zuccarello is now traveling with the Stars, who remain in the first wildcard. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon.

Detroit played a better second period. They took it to the Blueshirts in the first half. Ranger killer Athanasiou struck again for his 27th past a helpless Lundqvist at 4:30. After Kevin Shattenkirk got caught up ice, Chytil was too late on Nielsen’s tally with 2:44 left. That’s gonna happen. The 19-year old rookie is still learning. Ditto for Andersson, who’s also been caught on for some goals against. It is the development stage for the former 2017 first round picks.

Athanasiou was lethal during the season series going for four goals and two assists in the three Red Wing wins. One of the game’s fastest skaters, it’s all coming together for the center with the dangerous shot. Detroit might not be so bad if he continues to improve along with future captain Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and rookie Filip Zadina. Their defense remains shaky.

It wasn’t a lack of scoring chances for the Rangers against Howard because it never is. They got their looks throughout. At least for two periods, they couldn’t beat him. He stopped all 31 shots. I wondered if they would break through.

It took a power play drawn by Zibanejad on Bertuzzi (slashing) for them to snap the shutout. The power play has been a sore spot since the deadline. They were 1 for 32 entering this one. But this time instead of passing the puck around and firing blanks, a Shattenkirk rebound came right to Ryan Strome, who buried his 13th as a Blueshirt at 14:46 for an actual power play goal that drew them within one.

Pavel Buchnevich picked up a secondary helper. He continues to play well. Reunited with Kreider and Zibanejad, he was the most dangerous shooter. Unfortunately with Lundqvist on the bench, his one-timer from the slot deflected just wide. He was visibly upset on the bench after the speedy Athanasiou broke free and scored into an open net.

As it turned out, it proved to be the winner. That’s because some hard work on the forecheck from Lettieri resulted in a puck recovery from Howden, who got it to Neal Pionk for a quick one-timer that rebounded out to that sniper Brendan Smith for a well deserved goal with under 10 seconds remaining.

That was it for the game. On to the next one. Nine left.

Howell Honored: Prior to the game, the Rangers honored Harry Howell, who passed away on 3/10 at age 86. A 17-year Blueshirt who played the first 17 seasons on Broadway as a excellent Hall of Fame defenseman who won a Norris Trophy in ’66-67 before Bobby Orr’s dominance, he played for the Rangers from ’52-53 until the ’66-67 season when he posted a career best 13 goals and 40 points as a 34-year old to be recognized as the league’s best defenseman.

In 1160 games, Howell finished with 82 goals and 263 assists for a total of 345 points as a Blueshirt. The 1160 games remain a franchise record.

In 2009, the club finally retired his No. 3 alongside Andy Bathgate’s No. 9 in a memorable ceremony.

MSG showed some highlights of Howell’s brilliant Rangers career along with a wonderful clip of him thanking the fans for all the support. He was a classy player that’ll be missed.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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