The New York Rangers lost to the New Jersey Devils for the first time this season by a score of 3-2. The Rangers once again showed their ability to intensify their game more and more as time passed, scoring twice after watching the Devils score 3 unanswered goals through the first 30 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, their late 2nd period-3rd period comeback was not enough to make up for their lackluster play up to that point. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s great that the Rangers are able to up their game during the 3rd period, when everything matters more. However, they can not afford to continue to put themselves in that position. Earlier in January they were able to overcome deficits heading into the 3rd period, such as against Atlanta and Washington. Recently, though, they have been unable to comeback from behind, and they are losing crucial points that could make a big difference at the end of the year. Yes, the Rangers were victims of certain unfortunate bounces, most notably Girardi’s hitting the post with seconds left on the clock. However, the Rangers have shown they can compete with any team in the league, and therefore games on home ice against teams so low in standings shouldn’t come down to bounces. The Rangers are doing a great job of sticking with their game-plan and keeping games competitive against the top teams in the league, but they need to start putting away teams like New Jersey instead of letting it come down to one or two plays. Let’s highlight a few noteworthy players/areas from the game.
Henrik Lundqvist: Not the best performance from Henrik. The first goal by Kovalchuk took an unfortunate deflection off of Sauer so he gets sympathy for that one, but the other two were shots that he should have saved. Tortorella was just in pulling him in favor of Martin Biron after the third goal, and Henrik’s body language on the bench made it apparent that he knew he deserved it. At the same time, he did have a few good saves, and the skaters hardly did anything offensively to give him much room for mistakes. Though he certainly did not exactly help the Rangers tonight when they really could have used it, he is far from the sole blame for the loss. Lundqvist has been nearly flawless the past few months so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and classify this game as an aberration.
Michael Del Zotto: Del Zotto has played a lot better since returning from Connecticut and that earned him a spot in the lineup, taking Steve Eminger’s place in the lineup the past two games. All progress he seemingly has made was undermined by his performance against the Devils. On the powerplay he opened up absolutely nothing. He looked lost in the defensive zone. multiple times he made poor decisions with the puck, including one turnover that forced him to trip Patrik Elias and kill a Rangers powerplay opportunity. Especially with Eminger playing well for most of the year and ready to take a spot in the lineup back, Del Zotto is going to have to turn around his play VERY fast or he’ll see himself scratched, if not demoted once again. Tortorella has made it no secret that Del Zotto is going to have to perform at a relatively high level to get playing time this season. Games like tonight will do absolutely nothing to make Tortorella confident in him.
The Powerplay: Del Zotto was no help, but the whole powerplay continues to be nothing short of miserable. I understand the importance of letting the play build up and picking your spots to execute, as opposed to simply shooting at every possible opportunity like some Rangers fans seem to want. However, you are not going to produce anything if you have to spend 30 seconds simply fighting for possession behind the net or along the boards. More significantly, though, is even getting the puck into the zone in the first place. When Ryan Callahan is the first one to successfully gain the zone and maintain possession of the puck there are definitely issues. One goal, which happened to be somewhat lucky, on six opportunities is simply not good enough. It’s especially alarming that they couldn’t do so much as develop a play resulting in a shooting opportunity on their final powerplay when the Rangers were down a goal and had little time to work with. I’m not sure what can be done internally. Tortorella has tried all sorts of combinations and nothing has improved. I’m inclined to believe that Glen Sather will be in contact with other GM’s as the trading deadline approaches in hopes of acquiring a puck moving defenseman, and Tomas Kaberle has specifically come up as a player many credible sources speculate Sather will target. In the mean time, the Rangers can not simply wait and hope for reinforcements and need to figure out how to start producing with the man advantage.
Vinny Prospal: It’s great to have him back and he put in a very good performance tonight. The goal was definitely lucky, but at least he showed interest in getting the puck into a high probability scoring area. He got rewarded for that, and his reaction would make you think he was a rookie who put in a playoff overtime winner. Definitely an emotional spark this team could use. The rust was very obviously there, but multiple times he managed to end up in front of the net with the puck on his stick and he led the team in shots (with 5). If he continues to do that then eventually his shots will start going in as he’s more acclimated to playing again.
Faceoffs: Like the powerplay, the faceoffs continue to be an issue. Like I said, the Rangers have problems maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone on the powerplay and one huge reason for that is their inability to win faceoffs in their opponent’s end of the rink. Every single center lost more faceoffs than he won, and overall the team had an abysmal 37 percent success rate. Chris Drury in particular needs to be singled out, because if you’re not able to contribute anything else (no points, no shots, 1 hit) then you better at least be winning faceoffs (4 of 10).
It’s nice that the Rangers were able to make a game of it after the Devils took a 3-0 lead. It’s unfortunate that a few more bounces couldn’t go there way. The Rangers are much improved from the last few years, but if they really want to take it to that next level and establish themselves as a legitimate playoff threat then they need to start playing more effectively in the offensive zone. Lundqvist is not going to be invincible every night and the Rangers can not afford to rely on him to do so. Injuries are no longer an excuse. It’s time to put everything together and play like they’ve shown they can.