The hope was the New York Rangers would enter Saturday's game against the New Jersey Devils with a renewed fervor after a solid team effort in Washington on Wednesday. But, the day after the Blueshirts earned a 2-0 shutout of the Capitals, the team found out they would be without one of their top goal scorers, captain Ryan Callahan, for the next three to four weeks due to a broken thumb. Already without Rick Nash (concussion), Michael Del Zotto (flu) and Carl Hagelin (shoulder), the Rangers entered Saturday's game without some of their best, aggressive offensive talents. On Saturday, it showed.
The Devils earned their first win of the season by defeating a depleted Ranger squad by the score of 4-0. To put this in perspective, New Jersey only scored 13 goals in the last seven games, leading to a record of 0-4-3 entering this game. The Rangers drop to 2-5-0 and the questions continue for many facets of the team's game and their roster.
This game not only exhibited the Rangers' continued issue with taking bad penalties and giving the puck away, but it also highlighted a bigger problem for this squad - the lack of offensive depth. After the Rangers had such a strong showing against the Caps, it seemed as if the entire team regressed. Saturday's Rangers were a team out of sync with no chemistry on the lines and no offensive aggressiveness. The team, who - just a few days ago - managed to get 21 shots on goal against Washington in the second period alone, were only able to get 12 shots total between the first and second periods against the previously winless Devils.
Head coach Alain Vigneault tried to counter the loss of manpower by putting together a top line of Taylor Pyatt, Derick Brassard, and Brad Richards. But by the second half of the second period, Pyatt was placed on a line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett, while another struggling player, Mats Zuccarello replaced Pyatt. Going into this game, Zuccarello has only gotten five shots on goal in six games and has yet to register a point for the Rangers.
The Devils opened their scoring by capitalizing off a Ranger turnover. John Moore tried to clear the defensive zone, but failed. New Jersey got the puck behind the net and fed it out to the point. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov shot the puck on goal from the point. Unfortunately for New York, Andrei Loktionov was able to get the rebound and score.
Later in the first, former Ranger captain Jaromir Jagr was able to get the puck out of the defensive zone and up to teammate Rostislav Olesz. The center was able to spring Adam Henrique loose with a pass up the left wing. As Henrique skated into the offensive zone on the wing, he let go of a shot that the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist may have reacted too soon on. The first period ended with the Rangers down 2-0.
The only highlight for the Rangers in the second period was Taylor Pyatt rushing into the offensive zone on the wing and hitting the post early in the second period. At 5:42 of the period, Dominic Moore took a foolish penalty in the offensive zone (hand pass off the faceoff), which led to the Devils' third goal just 18 seconds later. On the power play, forward Michael Ryder got a great shot off from the point with traffic in front. The shot hit the shaft of defenseman Dan Girardi's stick and went past Lundqvist. Not only did the goal result in a three goal lead for the Devils, it also gave Jagr his second assist of the game.
Later in the second period, Rangers blueliner Justin Falk took an elbowing penalty and the Rangers were able to kill off the penalty. But, the penalty seemed to take even more wind from the Rangers' sails. After an offensive zone faceoff win, the Devils once again got a shot from the point, which produced a rebound. Dainius Zubrus was able to get to it on his backhand and shovel it past Lundqvist to give the Devils more than enough of a cushion to secure a victory and to give Vigneault enough of a reason to change his lines and seek more offense.
The third period was no better for the Blueshirts. Despite starting the third period with 1:57 of power play time, the man advantage yielded only one shot and no momentum, but it did present a scare for Ranger fans. While attempting to kill off the Rangers power play, Volchenkov slashed the Rangers' Brassard on the hand, causing the forward to head to the bench. Luckily, Brassard was able to make it back into the game. For the most part, the Devils were in lead-protection mode, going most of the third period without a shot on goal. You would figure this meant the Devils were back in their defensive zone and the Rangers were just rattling off shot after shot. But, that was not the case for a good chunk of the period. At one point, New York went without a shot on Devils goalie Cory Schneider for seven minutes.
Schneider would earn his first shutout as a Devil and his 10th career shutout by stopping 22 Ranger shots, but the Blueshirts did not have but a few quality chances throughout the game. Lundqvist stopped 15 of 19 Devil shots in the loss. Although the netminder should not be totally blamed for the loss, he has been giving up more rebounds than his normally does. Still, Henrik is used to a solid defense in front of him - a defense that communicates well and is usually in position. But, so far this year, that cohesiveness has yet to happen for the Ranger blueline.
The Rangers were 0 for 2 on the power play against a fairly disciplined New Jersey team. The Devils led the game in takeaways 12-3 and had the edge in faceoffs 30-29. It's important to note that the Devils led in faceoffs 23-16 after two periods. The puck possession by the Devils and the giveaways and bad penalties not only stem from a team that is still not used to their system of play, but a team that is consistently making fundamental mistakes. It also comes from a team that clearly lacks consistent offensive talent. Even with the torrid start by Brad Richards, he too was silenced by the Devils.
Look on the bright side - at least there is only two more games on this prolonged road trip. The Rangers don't play again until Thursday when they head to Philadelphia to face another team that has had a rough start to the season, the Flyers. Then, next Saturday, the Rangers will face the Detroit Red Wings in the Motor City - the first time the Blueshirts will face the Red Wings since the divisional realignment, which brought the Red Wings to the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference.
Then, finally, the Rangers will play a home game. Mark your calendars. On Monday, October 28th, Rangers fans can welcome the team home as they host the P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens for their home opener, the last by any team in the NHL this year.
In the meantime, given the fact the team has a number of days between games here, it will be interesting to see if the Rangers make any more roster moves - especially given Vigneault's earlier comments.